Two sixth-inning home runs send Wild Things to victory
Prior to a doubleheader Wednesday night against Schaumburg, Wild Things manager Bart Zeller talked about how his team should be prepared for a tough series against an opponent that is very good at playing small ball.
The Boomers have hit only six home runs all season. They prefer to work deep in the count, bunt, steal bases and utilize the hit-and-run.
The Wild Things, however, have been good at playing long ball and used two of them to win the opener of the doubleheader.
Outfielders Danny Poma and Stewart Ijames each hit a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to send the Wild Things to a 2-1 victory over the defending Frontier League champions at soggy Consol Energy Park.
The second game was suspended because of rain in the bottom of the fifth inning with the score tied 0-0. Schaumburg pitcher Seth Webster was throwing a no-hitter through four innings when play was stopped twice in the fifth.
The game will be resumed 5:05 p.m. today as part of a doubleheader.
The win in the opener improved the Wild Things’ league-best record to 16-6.
Poma led off the sixth by driving a 1-2 pitch from Schaumburg starter Rey Rodriguez (1-2) over the wall in left field to tie the score at 1-1. It was the second homer of the year for Washington’s leadoff hitter.
Three batters later, Ijames hit a 2-0 pitch into the parking lot behind the right field wall, giving Washington a 2-1 advantage.
“I never got the plate trying to hit a home run,” Ijames said. “I try to trust my swing and square up on a pitch. I was taught at an early age that you don’t (swing for a home run).”
But when the count reached 2-0, Ijames knew he might get a pitch that he could drive. He drove it for his sixth home run, which ties him for the team and league lead.
“The situation changes when you get to 2-0,” said Ijames, a former standout at the University of Louisville. “I’m still not looking to hit a home run; it was a byproduct of the situation. I was looking for something straight and firm. And, I’m not in that situation unless Poma doesn’t do what he did in the first at-bat of the inning.”
Wild Things starter Chris Phelan (4-1) pitched six strong innings against his former team and won his fourth consecutive decision. Phelan gave up six hits, one run and one walk.
Phelan was acquired by Washington in the offseason as the player to be named later in a trade that sent pitcher Shawn Sanford from the Wild Things to Schaumburg late last season.
Joanthan Kountis pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh for his league-leading ninth save.
Phelan admitted that he considered a game against his former teammates to be more than just one outing in a 96-game schedule.
“Of course,” Phelan said. “To battle against some of your friends and try to beat them makes it mean a little more. When we sit down later and discuss this one, I’ll have bragging rights.”
That’s because of Poma and Ijames, two of the hottest hitters in the league. Poma is batting a team-high .364 and Ijames leads the league with 23 RBI.
“Everybody in this lineup has been getting it done, but tonight it was two guys who are hot,” Phelan said. “When the count got to 2-0 on Ijames, you had to think he was in the driver’s seat. He got a good pitch to hit. Those are the guys you want at the plate in those situations.”
Washington had to rally because Schaumburg pushed across the game’s first run in the top of the sixth. Jordan Dean, who had two of the Boomers’ six hits, belted a one-out triple to the gap in right centerfield and scored on a single by Ryan McChesney.
Washington’s defense helped Phelan by turning two double plays, including one to end the sixth.
“The double plays helped me get out of some innings,” Phelan said. “Pitching against your old team, they know what I throw. I didn’t have anything different. I just had to make the pitches better and get ahead in the count. I fell behind too often but the defense helped me out by making a lot of plays.”
In the second game, Webster retired 13 of the 14 batters he faced. Washington third baseman Carter Bell walked and stole second base in the second inning but was stranded in scoring position.
Washington’s Zac Fuesser, who was making his first start of the season after six relief appearances, allowed only two singles through five innings.
The game was delayed by rain for seven minutes in the top of the fifth. When the rain slacked off, play resumed and the half-inning was completed. Before the Wild Things could bat in the bottom of the fifth the heavy rain returned, and following a wait of 21 minutes the decision to suspend the game was reached at 11:39 p.m.
The start of the doubleheader was delayed by two hours because of heavy rain that moved through the area late in the afternoon.
Prior to the game, Washington placed left-handed starting pitcher Tim Flight on the 60-day disabled list. Flight was struck in the left wrist by a line drive off the bat of Rockford’s Edgar Corcino during the first inning of a game Sunday against the Aviators. Flight suffered two broken bones in his arm but still managed to pick up the baseball and throw out Corcino at first base.
“I don’t know how, with two broken bones in his arm, he was able to throw the ball to first base, but he did it,” Zeller said. “He was in terrible pain in the dugout. It wasn’t a glancing blow.”
Flight had his arm in a sling the rest of the night and did not get X-rays until Monday, after the Wild Things returned to Washington.
In five starts with the Wild Things, Flight had a 2-0 record and 3.42 ERA. He struck out 21 in 23 2/3 innings. Flight, who played college ball at Southern New Hampshire, signed with Washington after one season in the New York Yankees’ system.
“Flight was starting to throw well,” Zeller said. “He was building confidence and commanding the strike zone. It’s a tough break for a guy who had his sights sets on getting back to affiliated ball.”
Washington filled Flight’s spot on the roster by signing first baseman Connor Lewis, a rookie out of Lander University, an NCAA Division II school in South Carolina. That’s the same school that produced former Wild Things shortstop A.J. Nunziato.
Lewis (6-3, 245) played two years at Lander and helped the Bearcats to the Division II World Series and a 52-9 record this year. He led Division II with 77 RBI while batting .353 with 16 doubles and 20 home runs.
The Wild Things will replace Flight in the starting rotation by activating Zach LeBarron from the disabled list Saturday. LeBarron had shoulder surgery last year and has been on the DL all season, though he has been with the team since the start of spring training.
LeBarron had a 3-2 record and 3.91 ERA last year with Washington after being released from the Los Angeles Angels’ system.