The Wild Things split a doubleheader Wednesday night against the Lake Erie Crushers, which means Washington manager Bart Zeller can pack his bags for Sauget, Ill., population 159.
Washington won the opening game, 4-1, but Lake Erie rallied for three runs in the sixth inning to win the nightcap, 3-1.
The split, along with Evansville’s split of a home doubleheader against Traverse City, assured the Wild Things of maintaining their one-game lead in the Frontier League’s East Division, which means Zeller will manage the East team in next week’s all-star game.
The managers of the teams that were in first place in the East and West divisions after games Wednesday night will manage in the all-star game, which will be hosted by the Gateway Grizzlies and played in Sauget, the smallest city in the United States to have a professional baseball team. Gateway manager Phil Warren will run the West Division all-stars.
Zeller will join six of his players – pitchers Shawn Blackwell and Jonathan Kountis, third baseman Carter Bell, and outfielders C.J. Beatty, Danny Poma and Stewart Ijames – at the all-star game. Zeller also will choose an additional three players to the East roster, and at least one could be from Washington.
Zeller has transformed the Wild Things from a franchise that has endured five consecutive losing seasons into one that has led the East Division for the last six weeks.
“He deserves to manage the all-star team,” Washington outfielder Scott Kalamar said. “That gave us extra motivation. You always want to win a game, of course, and he didn’t make any speech about it, but we wanted him to manage in that game. He deserves it. He has this team in first place and he’s done a good job.”
Washington made the most of only four hits and scored in just one inning while winning the opener. Lake Erie contributed two errors in Washington’s four-run third inning.
Catcher Jim Vahalik started the third by drawing a walk against Lake Erie starting pitcher Zack Gordon (0-1). Jarod Jamerson then hit a grounder that Lake Erie second baseman Vincent Mejia fielded, but his throw to second was wide and sailed into the Crushers’ bullpen down the left-field line. By the time the ball was retrieved, Vahalik had raced around the bases and scored the game’s first run.
Second baseman Sam Montgomery then put down a sacrifice bunt that was fielded by Gordon, but the throw to first base was dropped by Mejia for his second error in as many batters and Jamerson ended up on third base.
Both Jamerson and Montgomery scored when Poma laced a triple to left field. Kalmar followed with a double to the gap in left center that pushed the Wild Things’ lead to 4-0.
“Bart always tells us that you can’t give a good team extra outs,” Kalamar said. “We think we’re good enough offensively that if you give us extra outs then we’re going to take advantage of them.”
Kalamar had half of Washington’s four hits and reached base three times, drawing a walk in the first inning.
Lake Erie had at least one baserunner in every inning against Washington starter Scott Dunn (3-2) and two relievers. However, the Crushers could push across only one run, that coming in the fourth, when Craig Hertler tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by catcher Emmanuel Quiles.
Dunn went 5 1/3 innings, giving way to reliever Pat Butler with the Crushers’ Adam Ford on first base. Butler struck out Ryan Hutchison on three pitches, then picked off Ford to end the inning.
Closer Jonathan Kountis pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his league-leading 17th save.
Washington took a 1-0 lead into the key sixth inning of the second game. The Wild Things scored in the fourth inning, when designated hitter C.J. Beatty reached on a two-base throwing error and Maxx Garrett hit a long RBI-double over the head of Hertler in center field.
Lake Erie finally solved Blackwell (5-1), Washington’s starting pitcher, in the sixth. The Crushers loaded the bases on three consecutive singles before Anderson Hildago drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch to force in Juan Sanchez and tie the score.
Butler, who pitched in both games, gave up a pinch-hit single to Quiles that scored Andrew Davis and gave the Crushers a 2-1 lead. Hutchison followed with a sacrifice fly that scored Mejia with the game’s final run.
It was Blackwell’s first loss but he had little offensive support as Washington managed only five baserunners in the game.
“As a pitcher gets deeper in the game, and his team is not scoring runs for him, sometimes he feels he has to do more,” Zeller said. “Shawn elevated some pitches in the sixth and (the Crushers) put the barrel on the ball. They got more aggressive at the plate.”
Lake Erie left-hander Todd Kibby (5-1), who also is headed to the all-star game, allowed just two hits over 5 1/3 innings and struck out 10. In two starts this year against Washington, Kibby has struck out 17 and not allowed an earned run in 11 2/3 innings.
“That kid is awful tough,” Zeller said. “And we don’t make good adjustments against him. We don’t make the guy throw strikes. He has us eating out of his hands.”
Washington was held to just six hits in the doubleheader.
“You have to hit the ball to make things happen, and we didn’t do that,” Zeller said.
The Wild Things are 10-2 at home against East Division opponents. … Washington right fielder Stewart Ijames took a hit away from Joey Burney, throwing out the Lake Erie first baseman at first base in the second inning of the opener. Ijames fielded Burney’s line drive on one hop and came up throwing. It was the second time in three games that Ijames threw out a batter at first base. … Evansville lost to Traverse City 4-3 in the second game of their twinbill. Had the Otters won that game, Evansville and Washington would have been tied first place in the East. Evansville’s Andy McCauley would then have been the manager of the East all-stars because the Otters’ winning percentage would have been .005 better than that of the Wild Things. Evansville (27-18) has played two fewer games than Washington (29-18).