Wild Things ride early lead to easy win
This one had to seem like a blowout of epic proportions for the Wild Things, the team that has made one-run games the house specialty.
Washington scored five early runs Friday night against Normal and held on for a 5-3 victory over the CornBelters at Consol Energy Park.
The win ended a two-game losing skid for Washington. It also was only the second time in the last 10 games that the Wild Things didn’t play a contest decided by one run. The last time Washington (20-11) won by more than a single run was a 12-7 victory over Rockford June 8.
The Wild Things, who had only three hits in a 2-1 loss Thursday at Lake Erie, had three hits against Normal only three batters into the first inning.
Washington scored twice in the first against CornBelters starter Drew Provence (2-4), added another run in the second and scored two more in the third for a 5-0 lead.
“In the first inning, we had three hits and I looked at (coach) Bob and said ‘That’s as many as we had in nine innings yesterday,’” said Washington manager Bart Zeller.
Danny Poma, who was 3-for-4 and raised his batting average to .371, Scott Kalmar and C.J.Beatty hit consecutive singles to open the first inning and give Washington a 1-0 lead. Stewart Ijames added a groundout to second base that brought home Kalamar with the second run.
“I liked our first inning,” Zeller said. “We put the bat on a ball when we needed a ground ball to get a run in.”
The lead grew to 3-0 in the second inning, when catcher Jim Vahalik led off with a single, advanced on a sacrifice bunt by second baseman Sam Montgomery and scored when Poma tripled into the gap in right centerfield.
The Wild Things made it 5-0 in the third, taking advantage of three singles and a throwing error. Ijames and Yeurys Tejada started the inning with singles, and when Ijames tried to go from first to third on Tejada’s hit up the middle, the throw to third base sailed out of play and allowed a run to score. Tejada eventually scored the fifth run on a groundout by Connor Lewis.
Washington starter Shawn Blackwell (3-0) went six innings, allowing four hits, three walks and two runs. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth, when Tyler Shover singled and scored on a two-run double by Ozney Guillen.
Normal’s Mike Swartz hit a solo home run in the sixth to trim Washington’s lead to 5-2. The CornBelters scored again in the seventh against reliever Zach LeBarron, but the inning was cut short by a fine defensive play by Beatty, the Wild Things’ left fielder.
Trailing 5-2, Swartz singled to left field to score Pat McKenna from third base, but Beatty threw a strike to home plate and Mark Micowski, who was attempting to score from second base, was tagged out by Vahalik to end the inning.
“C.J.’s throw from left field, that’s about the third time he’s done that,” Zeller said. “He came in hard and let it go, and Vahalik had time to block the plate.”
Pat Butler pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Jonathan Kountis threw a scoreless ninth for his 11th save.
Poma said maintaining at least a two-run lead was big for the Wild Things’ pitchers.
“Our bats finally woke up and we took that weight off the pitchers’ shoulders,” he said. “Having more than a one-run lead doesn’t mean the pitchers put it on cruise control, but it gives them more confidence to have some margin for error.”
Washington released first baseman William Beckwith, who was on the 14-day disabled list with a knee injury. Beckwith began the season as the starter at first base but hit only .197 with no home runs in 23 games. … Guillen is the son of former Chicago White Sox and Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen.