By Chris Dugan
Though the Frontier League statistics suggest otherwise, Wild Things left fielder C.J. Beatty insists he is not a power hitter.
“Every now and then, things will come together and I’ll run into one,” Beatty said.
One of those times was in the sixth inning Wednesday night against the Rockford Aviators. And it couldn’t have happened at a better time for the Wild Things.
On a crisp and damp night – the kind of conditions in which the baseball does not carry well at Consol Energy Park – Beatty hit a mammoth two-run homer over the green batter’s eye in straightaway center field to break a tie and send the Wild Things to a 4-2 victory over Rockford in the opener of a six-game homestand.
The win keeps Washington tied with Evansville for first place in the East Division and one game ahead of third-place Southern Illinois.
Beatty’s long home run, which sailed into the darkness and disappeared from view as it carried beyond the center-field wall, 405 feet from home plate, came a half inning after Rockford had tied the score. The Aviators’ Dusty Robinson hit a two-run homer off Washington starter Zac Fuesser (7-1) in the top of the sixth.
Washington shortstop Ryan Kresky worked a leadoff walk off Rockford starter Nick Grim (0-2). Beatty followed by lifting an 86 mph fastball from Grim into the night for his 15th home run of the season. It ties Beatty for the team lead in homers with Stewart Ijames and moved him to within one of league leader Josh Ludy (River City). However, Beatty leads all active Frontier League hitters in home runs because Ijames and Ludy each recently had their contracts purchased by major league organizations.
“I’m not a power hitter. I would describe myself as a free-swinger,” Beatty said. “I’m not going to hit for a high average, but I’m going to give you a hard swing, and if you make a mistake it’s going to go.”
Beatty said he was upset with his first two at-bats against Grim. The first resulted in a walk and the second was a groundout to second base.
“I had taken some defensive swings,” Beatty said. “When I was in the outfield before that next at-bat I told myself to just see the ball and hit it.”
Beatty’s home run and the performance of Fuesser, who entered the night leading the league in ERA, left Washington coach Bob Bozutto to draw comparisons to past Wild Things players.
“Beatty’s home run, that reminded me of the days of guys like Grant Psomas and Ernie Banks, who would hit home runs that would be climbing as they went over the wall,” Bozutto said.
Fuesser turned in another quality start. He scattered nine hits over 6 1/3 innings but walked only one, picked a runner off first base and struck out six. The two-run homer by Robinson – which hit the yellow tubing atop the left-field wall, bounced in the air and hit the tubing a second time before going over – was only the second and third runs allowed by Fuesser over a stretch of 29 1/3 innings.
“Zac is like a left-handed Aaron Ledbetter,” Bozzuto said, comparing his pitcher to the league’s career wins leader. “He’s not overpowering, but he throws strikes, keeps everyone in the game and he has enough on his fastball to make you swing and miss.”
Robinson’s bouncing home run, which didn’t travel nearly as far as Beatty’s but was counted just as much, came with one out in the sixth, after Tanner Witt had legged out an infield single into the hole at shortstop.
The Aviators finished with 10 hits against Fuesser and relievers Matt Purnell and Jonathan Kountis but left runners on base in each of the first seven innings.
Kountis struck out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth for his league-leading 23rd save.
Washington forged a 2-0 lead by manufacturing runs in the second and third innings. First baseman William Beckwith doubled to start the second and came around to score on consecutive groundouts by third baseman Carter Bell and second baseman Garrett Rau. In the third, designated hitter Jose Dore went the opposite way with a pitch for a double down the left-field line, advanced on center fielder Danny Poma’s groundout to second base and scored on a sacrifice fly by Kresky.
“Early in the game we were moving guys over and playing smart baseball,” Bozzuto said. “The inside-out swing Poma made to advance a runner from second to third was totally unselfish.”
The start of the game was delayed by rain for one hour and 59 minutes. … Prior to the game, Washington signed catcher Cole Martin (5-11, 195), a rookie out of the University of Michigan, and released catcher Michael Allen for the second time. Allen played in eight games over two stints with Washington and batted .182 in 11 at-bats. Martin, who is a native of Bay City, Mich., played in 196 career games with Michigan and had a .237 batting average. This spring, Martin batted .256 with 15 RBI and had 12 multi-hit games. … The two runs allowed by Fuesser raised his ERA from 1.72 to 1.82, which is second in the league behind Trevor Walch (1.80). … In Southern Illinois’ 20-11 win Wednesday at Normal, the Miners’ Chris Burke was 5-for-5, hit for the cycle, had a grand slam and tied the league record with nine RBI. Three other players in league history have had nine RBI in a game. … Washington (40-24) needs one more victory to match its win total of last year.