When you’re on the kind of roll the Normal CornBelters are enjoying, you can miss a hit-and-run signal.
And it leads to a three-run inning.
That’s what happened in the sixth inning Sunday, when Normal scored three times and went on to defeat the Wild Things, 3-1, at Consol Energy Park.
The win was the eighth in 10 games for the CornBelters (15-16).
Normal trailed 1-0 in the sixth as Washington starter Chris Phelan (4-2) was cruising, working a three-hit shutout. Normal catcher Tyler Shover opened the inning with a single on a 3-2 pitch. While at first base, Shover missed the hit-and-run signal twice and was still there when Santiago Chirino was down in the count 0-2 with one out.
Phelan then threw a pitcher’s pitch, a high fastball that was riding in on Chirino, who made a late decision to swing. The CornBelters’ second baseman hit the ball off the handle for a bloop single to shallow left field.
“Both the runner and the hitter missed the hit and run,” Normal manager Brooks Carey said. “We don’t swing because the batter doesn’t see the runner taking off, and we then we fall behind 0-2 in the count. But then we get the hit on an 0-2 pitch. That’s the way the game goes for you sometimes.”
Chirino’s bloop hit brought up Mike Schwartz, the CornBelters’ first baseman, who then laced a triple to right centerfield that gave Normal a 2-1 lead. Schwartz’s hit just cleared the glove of leaping second baseman Sam Montgomery and then split outfielders Danny Poma and Stewart Ijames in the gap.
Swartz made it 3-1 when he scored on a sacrifice fly by Sam Judah.
The big inning sent Washington, which still leads the Frontier League’s East Division, to a second consecutive series loss and continued a puzzling string of Sunday frustrations. The Wild Things (20-13) have lost a game on five consecutive Sundays.
“We’re in a funk,” Washington manager Bart Zeller admitted.
The Wild Things took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when C.J. Beatty, who hit two home runs Saturday night, drew a four-pitch walk and scored on Ijames’ line-drive double to right centerfield.
Washington squandered several scoring chances, but otherwise had its lumber lulled into a slumber by Normal starter Corey MacDonald (2-1) and three relievers.
The Wild Things’ best scoring chance was in the third, when they had runners on second and third with one out but did not score. For the game, they were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
“We leave guys on third base with less than two outs early in the game and it comes back to haunt us,” Zeller said. “Then we let their hottest hitter (Schwartz) beat us.”
McDonald scattered six hits over six innings, and Normal relievers Jason Postill, Cole Brocker and Alan Oaks combined for three shutout innings. Brocker struck out Washington’s 3-4-5 hitters, including Beatty and Ijames, in the eighth.
“We have the bullpen,” Carey said. “Our record would be a lot better if we had any starting pitching in the first three weeks. We’re trying to fix that area. When we do, we have the hitting to be as competitive as any team.”
Washington’s offense has revolved around the trio of Poma, Beatty and Ijames. Poma is third in the league in batting average, while Beatty and Ijames entered Sunday tied for the league lead in RBI.
After the Big 3, however, Washington has only one other player batting better than .257 and none with double-figure RBI.
“We’re too dependent on three guys,” Zeller said. “I told the guys before the game that we can’t always let Beatty, Ijames and Poma do all the damage. We have to act with accountability and get on base and drive in runs any way we can. We’re taking too many third strikes. That happens sometimes, but it’s happening too often.
“It’s not that we’re playing bad baseball. The defense is getting us out of a lot of jams. Offensively, we’re just lethargic.”
Washington made a flurry of roster moves, activating pitcher Tyler Elrod from the disabled list, signing infielder Blaise Fernandez and releasing first baseman J.C. Brandmaier. Fernandez started 56 games at third base this spring for Atlantic 10 champion George Mason, hitting. 294 with 21 doubles and 41 RBI. Brandmaier was 2-for-19 (.105) in eight games. … Phelan threw only 60 pitches in 6 1/3 innings. … Normal right fielder Mike Micowski broke two bones in his wrist when he slammed into the wall Saturday while chasing Beatty’s second home run. … Washington’s series opener Tuesday at home against Traverse City has a 10:35 a.m. start time.