Bunt goes long way in ending Wild Things’ streak

June 1, 2014

The way relief pitchers for the Wild Things and Windy City ThunderBolts have been shutting down opponents this year, you probably had the feeling it was going to take something out of the ordinary to win the extra-inning game between the teams Sunday evening at Consol Energy Park.

Windy City was able to make its own break and came away with a 3-2 victory in 10 innings that snapped the Wild Things’ five-game winning streak.

Michael Torres’ one-out bunt – a surprise offering that was perfectly placed along the third-base line – showed Windy City’s resourcefulness, and a costly Washington throwing error and ensuing bloop single sent Torres home with the game-winning run.

“A bunt and bloop,” Washington manager Bart Zeller said. “It was probably going to take something crazy to win the game. No pitcher was going to get shelled or give up five hits. It was going to take an odd play in there, and they got it with the bunt and then the bloop hit.”

Torres, Windy City’s lefty-hitting shortstop, dropped down the bunt against Washington left-handed reliever Zac Fuesser (2-1). Carter Bell, the Wild Things’ third baseman and the best defensive performer in the three-game series, charged hard, made a barehanded scoop and threw a dart to first base. The throw, however, sailed too high for first baseman Will Beckwith and went into the Wild Things’ bullpen down the right-field line.

“The bunt opened the door,” Zeller said. “The guy made a good bunt. Carter gave it everything he had, and you can’t fault a guy for trying to make a play.”

Torres ended up on second base. One batter later, Ryan Soares dunked a run-scoring single into shallow center field.

“Mike is very good at it,” Windy City manager Ron Biga said of Torres’ bunt. “That’s why he’s been an all-star in this league for the last four years. He picks and chooses when to put one down. He’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

Windy City closer Daniel Canela pitched a perfect bottom of the 10th inning to deal Washington only its second loss in 12 games.

It was the second extra-inning game in the three-game series between two evenly matched teams built on pitching and defense. The series included 30 innings, and not one ended with a team holding a lead of more than one run.

“That was good baseball,” said Biga, who was an assistant coach on Zeller’s staff at Joliet when the Slammers on the league championship in 2011.

“Both teams have good pitching and defense. This series was old-school baseball. We both like to put pressure on the opponent when they’re on defense. … you had to. Their pitchers are really good and our guys are throwing really well. I had the feeling you’d need something crazy to happen to win the game.”

Windy City used a run-scoring double in the first inning and an RBI-groundout in the third, each from Kyle Robinson, to take a 2-0 lead, but Washington got one of those runs back in the third when catcher Jim Vahalik doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly by second baseman Garrett Rau.

Vahalik and Rau also figured into Washington’s second run, which came in the fifth inning. Vahalik led off with a single, moved to third on Danny Poma’s single and scored when Rau grounded out.

Poma, however, was thrown out stealing third and Washington did not get a hit the rest of the way. Windy City relief pitchers Victor Larez, Jessie Snodgrass (2-0) and Canela combined for 5 2/3 hitless innings

“The bottom line is you can’t win baseball games with only five hits,” Zeller said. “You have to get guys on base and we didn’t do that.”

Washington starting pitcher Shawn Blackwell allowed only six hits and two runs over seven innings. Four Wild Things relievers gave up three hits and the one unearned run over three innings.

“Those are two evenly matched teams,” Zeller said.

Extra bases

Prior to the game, Washington signed first baseman J.C. Brandmaier out of Dowling College, a Division II school located on Long Island. Brandmaier (6-2, 225) had a productive career at Dowling and completed his senior season last month. He batted .323 with 19 doubles, four triples, four home runs and 44 RBI in 51 games. Though he had only 75 at-bats as a junior at Dowling, Brandmaier popped onto the scouts’ radar last year when he was the Most Valuable Player in the Hamptons Collegiate Summer League. … Windy City starting pitcher Jason Kafka, the brother of Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup quarterback Mike Kafka, made his first career start and gave up two runs over 4 1/3 innings.

Chris Dugan has been covering local sports for more than 30 years and has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1986. He was named sports editor in 2006. Before joining the O-R, he was sports editor at the Democrat-Messenger in Waynesburg. He is a former member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. If you have an idea for a story, send him an email at dugan@observer-reporter.com.

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