The Wild Things still don’t have a manager.
And they lost their best player before the game Friday night, when right fielder Stewart Ijames had his contract purchased by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
After taking a couple of unexpected punches to the gut this week, nobody would have been surprised – or pointed blame – if the Wild Things were distracted or struggled in the opening game of a series against the River City Rascals, which rolled into Consol Energy Park leading the Frontier League’s West Division.
However, there are a few things that have remained intact with this team. The Wild Things still know how to win, and pitcher Scott Dunn knows how to get out hitters.
The Wild Things, playing one of their best games of the season, scored three early runs and that was enough for Dunn and four relief pitchers as Washington defeated River City, 6-1.
The win, along with Southern Illinois’ 3-0 win at Evansville, gives Washington a two-game lead over the latter in the East Division standings.
Dunn, the league’s Pitcher of the Year last season when he was 15-1 for Traverse City, threw six shutout innings for the Wild Things to improve his record to 4-2. He allowed only four hits and did not issue a walk. Dunn, a Clinton native, left with a 5-0 lead.
“Scott did an excellent job. That’s what he has been doing in this league for a long time,” said Washington coach Bob Bozzuto, who shared the coaching duties with hitting coach Bob Didier and pitching coach Kevin Gryboski.
“He’s a leader on the mound and pitches with a lot of guts and determination.”
River City also sent a veteran pitcher to the mound to start the game in Tommy Mendoza (3-2). Washington got to him early, forging a 3-0 lead after two innings. Scott Kalamar, who replaced Ijames in right field, hit a double off the wall in center field in the first inning, scoring C.J. Beatty.
Garrett Rau made it 3-0 in the second when he hit an 0-2 pitch from Mendoza into right field, scoring Connor Lewis and Jim Vahalik.
That was enough offense for Dunn and the Washington bullpen, which held River City scoreless until the eighth. Pat Butler, Matt Purnell, Al Yevoli and Tyler Elrod followed Dunn on the mound.
“I love this setup,” Dunn said. “I have complete faith in our bullpen. They’ve been a shutdown group that shortens the rest of the game.”
Mendoza settled down after his rocky start, retiring 11 in a row at one stretch. The Wild Things pushed the lead to 5-0 in sixth with some help from the Rascals. Carter Bell doubled and scored on a passed ball. Sam Montgomery walked, stole second, advanced to third on the passed ball and scored on a balk.
Washington center fielder Danny Poma doubled off reliever Bryce Shafer in the seventh, stole third base and scored when the throw from the Rascals’ catcher was mishandled at third and the ball went into left field, making the score 6-0.
The Rascals scored their lone run when Josh Ludy bounced into a double play with the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth, scoring Tyler Zupcic, who was making his professional debut.
“Losing a guy like Stewart Ijames, you can’t replace him easily,” Bozzuto said. “We have to replace his production with nine guys, if that’s what it takes. You can’t replace him with one guy.
“Tonight, Scott Kalamar goes in the No. 4 spot in the order and hits a ball off the centerfield wall. I told him, you’re not a cleanup hitter, just be Scott Kalamar and hit the ball hard, which is what he did. It’s just everyone doing their job.”
To fill Ijames’ roster spot, Washington re-signed first baseman William Beckwith, who played 23 games for the Wild Things and hit .197 before being released last month. Beckwith started at designated hitter and batted sixth in the lineup. He was 0-for-4. … General manager Steve Zavacky said the Wild Things’ managerial situation is something they are “still working on” and the team will use coaching by committee until a manager is named. … River City has been depleted by injuries and players being signed by affiliated teams. The Rascals played with the league minimum 22 active players and did not have a backup position player.