On day when so much went wrong, Wild Things got it right

June 24, 2014

Not much went according to script Tuesday in the Wild Things’ series opener against Traverse City.

There was a 10:30 a.m. start time for the Kids Day game, but the umpires who were assigned to call the game didn’t get the memo about the early start. When 10:30 a.m. arrived, there were no umpires at the ballpark, causing a 72-minute delay before the first pitch.

Following a few frantic phone calls, one of the original umpires, Ron Whiting of Fairmont, W.Va., and two replacements, Mark Schmidt of Crafton and T.J. McConnville of Vanderbilt, showed up. All three umpires worked the game, which meant there was one more umpire than the Frontier League uses for regular season games.

The Wild Things, who entered the day with the best fielding percentage in the league, committed four errors, or roughly one-fifth of the total they had through the season’s first 33 games.

And the script has rarely called for Washington catcher Jim Vahalik and shortstop Garrett Rau each to hit a home run, or for the Wild Things to forge a six-run lead, but all of those things happened in an 8-5 victory over the Beach Bums.

Though the script for the day was thrown out, one thing that did go according to plan was the pitching of Washington starter Zac Fuesser (3-1), who went 6 1/3 strong innings and kept the damage from some shoddy defense to a minimum. Fuesser, a lefty from York, S.C., allowed five hits and two runs (one earned), striking out five and walking only one.

Fuesser seemed to handle the later-than-expected start better than Traverse City’s Ian MacDougall (1-2), who yielded nine hits and seven runs in five innings.

“I didn’t let the delay bother me. I roll with the flow of things. There’s nothing you can do about it,” said Fuesser, who started long-tossing in the outfield when he was informed of the umpire delay and was told to stop throwing.

“This was like my last outing, at Lake Erie. There was a rain delay before the start of that game. I’m not a guy who has to have a routine to be successful.”

Fuesser is having plenty of success in the Frontier League after spending five years in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system. To show just how dominant Fuesser has been, the one earned run he allowed Tuesday made his ERA go up, to 1.34, which is second-best in the league.

“Zac was fantastic,” Washington manager Bart Zeller said. “He did a great job. He made the right pitches. He was what we needed today.”

The Wild Things also needed some pop in the lineup from players other than their Big 3 of Danny Poma, C.J. Beatty and Stewart Ijames. Vahalik and Rau provided as much in the second inning. Already leading 2-1, Washington got a solo homer from Vahalik to open the inning, and three batters later Rau hit his first home run of the year, a two-run shot to left field that gave the Wild Things a 5-1 lead.

Washington used singles by Ijames and Carter Bell (3-for-4) opening the sixth to knock out MacDougall. Ryan Brasser replaced MacDougall and was victimized by two errors and a run-scoring single by Vahalik as the Wild Things scored three runs to push their lead to 8-2.

Fuesser exited in the seventh, with the bases loaded and one out following the fourth Washington error.

“A lot of starting pitchers, if they had started long-tossing and then had to shut it down, that would bother them, but not Zac,” Vahalik said. “He’s a veteran guy who pounds the strike zone. If he faces any adversity, he stays focused.”

Reliever Tyler Elrod got out of the jam by inducing an inning-ending double play. Elrod faced four batters in the game and got five outs.

The Beach Bums did make it interesting in the ninth. Singles by former Pitt standout Casey Roche, Jeff DeBlieux and Greg Harisis, along with a one-out walk by Jake Rhodes off reliever Devin Malone scored one run and had the bases loaded.

Kountis then replaced Malone got the final two out for his league-leading 12th save, though Yazy Arbelo beat an infield shift and smacked a two-run single.

Extra bases

Vahalik left the game in the ninth inning after being hit on the fingers with a foul tip. “He’ll be sore (today) but I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Zeller said. … Bell had a two-run single in the first inning. … Traverse City did not allow more than two runs in each of its last five games.

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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