By Chris Dugan
Scott Kalamar thought he drove in the game-winning run with a single in the seventh inning. Then the Wild Things’ designated hitter thought he was primed to score the game-winning run in the ninth inning after hitting a one-out triple.
Kalamar, however, didn’t become the catalyst in the Wild Things’ victory Friday night over Joliet until the bottom of the 11th inning. And all he had to do was drop down a bunt, go head over heels, have hit head hit the turf, get the wind knocked out of him and then trot across home plate on a teammate’s game-winning hit.
Kalamar scored from second base when Stewart Ijames drove a double to deep center field with one out in the 11th, giving Washington a wild 6-5 victory at Consol Energy Park.
The run scored two batters after Kalamar pushed a bunt down the third-base line that Joliet’s Grant DeBruin fielded and threw wide to first base. Russell Moldenhauer, the Slammers’ first baseman, attempted to catch the errant throw, which was to the home-plate side of the bag, and collided with Kalamar, sending the latter flipping onto the turf. Kalamar alertly got to his feet and raced into scoring position as the ball was being tracked down near the Washington bullpen.
“My head hit hard (on the turf),” Kalamar said. “I had the air knocked out of me. But I looked and saw the right fielder wasn’t close to the ball, so I got up and ran to second base.”
Two batters later, Kalamar scored. The Slammers intentionally walked C.J. Beatty to set up a potential double play, but Ijames drove a pitch from Ryan Connolly (1-2) to the wall in center field for the game-winning hit.
“We’ve played a lot of long games recently with the rain,” said Kalamar, who in his second year with Washington after a standout career at Seton Hall. “This shows how much this team is willing to fight for a win. We showed a lot of heart.”
Washington trailed 2-0, then led 5-2 in the eighth before being pushed to its third extra-inning game in a little more than 24 hours. The Wild Things also overcame giving up seven walks and hitting three batters.
“That’s a good team win,” Washington manager Bart Zeller said. “We withstood everything that happened. The guys always believed they would manufacture a run and come back.”
Jonathan Kountis (1-2), the fifth Washington pitcher, was the winner, tossing two scoreless innings.
Both teams squandered a bevy of scoring opportunities. Joliet left 13 runners on base and Washington 12.
In the first four innings, Joliet was able to get ‘em on and get ‘em over but couldn’t get ‘em in against Washington starter Shawn Blackwell. The Slammers had 10 baserunners but stranded seven, bounced into a double play, had a runner thrown out at home plate by Ijames, the Wild Things’ right fielder, and another thrown out when he ventured too far off second base on a ground ball hit to shortstop Ryan Kresky.
The Slammers finally broke through in the fifth, taking advantage of two walks to start the inning. Marquis Riley and Moldenauer drew the walks, and Adam Giaalone hit a one-out single through the right side of the infield to give Joliet a 1-0 lead.
Chadwin Stang, the Slammers’ starting center fielder, then doubled off the wall in left field, driving in Moldenhauer and giving Joliet a 2-0 advantage. Stang, however, broke the fibula in his left leg sliding into second base while trying to beat the throw from the outfield. Stang was taken off the field on a cart and went to Washington Hospital.
Washington didn’t generate much offense against Joliet starter Andrew Busby until the sixth, when center fielder Danny Poma singled, stole second base and scored on Ijames’ two-single through the right side, beating an infield shift.
Busby was taken out after six innings, and Washington’s offense came to life in the seventh against Slammers reliever Chase Doremus. Jim Vahalik led off with a single, moved to second base on a wild pitch and scored when Poma belted a two-out double off the wall in left field. Kalamar then fought off an outside pitch and slapped it over the head of DeBruin for a single, scoring Poma and giving Washington a 3-2 lead.
“The pitcher made a good pitch,” Kalamar said. “I was just using a two-strike approach and flipped it out there.”
On the next pitch, Beatty hit his league-leading seventh home run, a two-run shot to right field, giving Washington a 5-2 lead.
With the way the Wild Things’ relief pitchers have been throwing, that three-run cushion seemed safe. The Slammers, however, scored three runs (two unearned) in the top of the eighth. Joliet used a single, hit batsman and single to lead the bases with one out. Riley then grounded out for the second out of the inning as Max Casper scored to trim the Washington lead to 5-3.
Moldenhauer then reached base when second baseman Nick Ratajczak, a Joliet native, booted a potential inning-ending ground ball, allowing a run to score. Garcia then raced home on a wild pitch by reliever Al Yevoli, the second Washington pitcher of the inning, as Joliet tied the score at 5-5.
The Wild Things had a golden opportunity to win in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases on a one-out triple to right centerfield by Kalamar and consecutive intentional walks to Beatty and Ijames. Joliet brought Riley in from left field to be a fifth infielder but he wasn’t needed. Reliever Sam Moore struck out Carter Bell, and then with Riley back in the outfield, Connor Lewis struck out on a 3-2 pitch. Lewis was playing in only his second professional game after being signed Wednesday.
“After playing two close games with Schaumburg (Thursday), we hung in there,” Zeller said. “That was a big, big win.”