He is supposed to be the No. 2 catcher, but he refuses to disappear. He is supposed to be relegated to a life of warming up relief pitchers, but he is messing up the routine by smashing too many key hits and throwing out too many potential base stealers.
Maxx Garrett knows he’s not the Wild Things’ No. 1 catcher – that role belongs to Jim Vahalik – but manager Bart Zeller has had trouble keeping Garrett’s name off the lineup card. Twenty-four times in 36 games, Garrett has appeared in a contest, called upon to either play catcher or be the designated hitter.
Garrett got a start behind the plate Thursday night and delivered the key hit in the game against the Traverse City Beach Bums, a solo homer in the sixth inning that tied the score and seemed to pump life into a Washington attack that had fallen into a two-day slumber.
Garrett later drew a bases-loaded walk that forced in an insurance run and helped send the Wild Things to a 5-2 victory and series win.
The victory also kept the Wild Things in first place in the Frontier League’s East Division, one game ahead of Evansville, which was rained out.
Garrett’s solo homer to left field opening the sixth off Traverse City starter Alex Phillips (0-3) was one of only four Washington hits in the game, but it was the most important. It was just the second hit of the night for the Wild Things but sparked a two-run inning that gave them the lead.
“This offense can spark at any time. Anyone can get it going,” Garrett said. “I got lucky and got a pitch to drive. Phillips had some deception with his delivery, but I was fortunate to run into one.”
To that point, almost all of Washington’s offense in the final two games of the three-game series had been delivered by Stewart Ijames. The right fielder hit two solo homers Wednesday and provided another solo shot, this one carrying over the video board, in the fifth inning. It cut Traverse City’s lead to 2-1 and was the Wild Things’ first hit off Phillips.
“It’s been watching Ijames play,” Garrett said. “When you have a hot bat like that, you have to ride it.”
Garrett had a hot start this season, which led to Zeller using his backup catcher as the designated hitter against left-handed starting pitchers. Garrett had cooled off recently and fallen into a 2-for-29 slide that had dropped his batting average to .240. So Garrett was given some advice by Zeller in the sixth inning.
“I walked up to Maxx before that at-bat and told him to keep the ball in the park and try to hit a line drive,” Zeller recalled. “When he rounded third base, he looked and me and ‘Like that?’”
Before the sixth inning ended, the Wild Things would score the go-ahead run. Danny Poma hit a one-out single, stole second base and moved to third when the throw went into the outfield.
After Phillips was relieved by Nate O’Bryan, who had not pitched in 13 days, Garrett Rau drew a walk. O’Bryan was able to catch Rau off first base with a sneaky pickoff move, but the Wild Things’ shortstop was able to stay in a rundown long enough for Poma to scamper home with the go-ahead run.
Washington tacked on two insurance runs in the seventh with the help of walks and a Beach Bums error.
Ijames singled to start the inning and advanced when Carter Bell’s grounder was thrown low to second base. Blaise Fernandez’s walk loaded the bases, and then Garrett and Sam Montgomery each drew walks off sidearm reliever Clayton Ruch to force in two runs.
Garrett finished the game 1-for-2 with two RBI.
“Maxx is a big, strong kid, and when he gets into one he can really drive it. He also does an excellent job behind the plate,” Zeller said. “As a hitter, he’s the ultimate streak hitter. When he’s hot, he can really get a roll.”
Garrett also called a good game behind the plate, working with five Washington pitchers. Starter Shawn Blackwell (4-0) allowed two runs over six innings. He gave up four hits and five walks, but only one of the free passes came around to score.
Tyler Elrod, Al Yevoli, Pat Butler and Jonathan Kountis combined for three innings of scoreless relief. Kountis got the final three outs for his league-leading 13th save.
“One thing I look for in a backup catcher is a guy who can throw, call a good game, block balls in the dirt, command the respect of the pitching staff and, oh, maybe, hit a little,” Zeller said of his backup catcher from Gonzaga University. “We don’t miss a beat when Maxx is in there.”
Ijames’ home run was his 11th of the season, which ties him for the league lead. … Ijames and Phillips were rivals during their days in college, Ijames at Louisville and Phillips at Kentucky. … The Wild Things begin a three-game series tonight at Lake Erie.