Ijames, Nunziato help Washington walk off as winners
The first game after the all-star break is about starting over.
Two Wild Things players who didn’t mind hitting the refresh button were right fielder Stewart Ijames and shortstop A.J. Nunziato.
Ijames, though an all-star selection, had been struggling of late as his batting average tumbled about 40 points in the weeks leading up to the break. Nunziato, meanwhile, was batting below .250 and generated only 14 RBI in the season’s 51 games.
However, both Ijames and Nunziato started the second half with bang, delivering clutch hits in the bottom of the 10th inning Friday night as the Wild Things rallied to defeat the Schaumburg Boomers, 5-4.
After Schaumburg had taken a 4-3 lead with a run in the top of the 10th, Ijames led off the bottom of the inning with an opposite-field, game-tying home run off Schaumburg relief pitcher Dexter Price.
Pinch-hitter Shain Stoner was then hit by a pitch and advanced to third base after a sacrifice bunt by newcomer Mario Mercedes and a groundout by pinch-hitter Scott Kalamar.
Nunziato then laced a line-drive single that landed in front of Schaumburg right fielder Sean Mahley as Stoner raced home with the winning run.
“A come-from-behind win, getting a big, two-out hit, what a great job,” Washington manager Bart Zeller said. “A.J. had been struggling a little bit. He’s been making contact but not getting the results. In the 10th, he barreled up and got the hit. In the first half of the season, the second baseman catches that ball and we go home.”
The Wild Things began the night in sixth place, seven games behind first-place Traverse City in the East Division standings. This game’s result was a reversal of the season opener when Schaumburg defeated the Wild Things in extra innings in Illinois.
“I told the guys that what is gone is gone. We can’t do anything about it,” Zeller said of the season’s first half. “I wasn’t happy where we’re at, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort.”
The game started much as the first half ended. Washington fell in a 3-0 hole as Schaumburg’s Steve McQuail, the all-star Home Run Derby winner, hit a two-run homer in the first inning that bounced off the yellow tubing at the top of the fence just inside the left-field line.
The Boomers made it 3-0 in the third when Brian McConkey’s single up the middle scored Chad Mozingo from second base.
“I was really happy with the energy tonight. Nobody got down even when we got behind 3-0,” Zeller said.
A solo home run by Washington’s Jovan Rosa off Schaumburg starter Seth Webster in the fourth inning started a comeback.
In the seventh, Washington put runners on first and third with one out, and when newcomer Chris Constantino stole second base, the throw from Boomers catcher Mike Valadez slipped into center field, allowing C.J. Beatty to score and make it 3-2.
Two batters later, Calvin Culver, playing in only his second game with Washington, hit a well-placed, two-out single to left field that scored Constantino with the tying run.
Schaumburg, which had been held scoreless for six innings by Washington starter Shawn Sanford and three relievers, took a 4-3 lead in the 10th against closer Jhonny Montoya. The Boomers loaded the bases with one out, but managed only one run – on a RBI groundout by Jordan Dean.
Schaumburg, which had a league-best 11 last at-bat wins in the season’s first half, seemed primed to add to the total until Ijames led off the bottom of the 10th with his home run.
Ijames said such a dramatic win is just what the Wild Things need to build some much-needed momentum.
“Everybody was wanting to start the second half of the season fresh. We’re going to show that we’re still in the hunt and will be charging hard,” Ijames said.
Sanford pitched seven innings, allowing eight hits, one walk and three runs (one earned). He struck out six. … Prior to the game, Washington placed catcher Jim Vahalik (broken wrist) and relief pitcher Orlando Santos (shoulder tightness) on the disabled list and released outfielder Alex Buccilli. Signed were catcher Mario Mercedes, who is in his ninth season of professional baseball and played 30 games this season for the Southern Illinois Miners, and third baseman Chris Constantino, who had been playing in the Pecos League with the Roswell Invaders. Washington also placed pitcher Justin Hall on the retired list because of a season-ending shoulder injury. … Mercedes threw out two Schaumburg baserunners in the fourth inning.