It was fitting that on Chris Sidick Night the outfielders for the Wild Things played a major role in an important victory that could eventually have major playoff implications.
Left fielder Scott Kalamar hit a solo homer and drove in two runs; center fielder Andrew Heck had two hits, scored a run and caught a fly ball as he crashed into the center-field wall in the ninth inning and right fielder Jose Dore made a fantastic diving catch to rob Gateway’s Michael Johnson of a hit in the fifth inning.
It all added up to a 4-2 victory for Washington over Gateway Friday night in front of 3,021 fans at Consol Energy Park.
The night started with the Wild Things retiring the No. 12 jersey of Sidick, the Cecil native who played seven seasons (2005-11) for Washington and holds many of the Frontier League’s career hitting records. It ended with Wild Things closer Jonathan Kountis putting his name in the league record book. Kountis pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to earn his 29th save, which set the single-season record.
Between the jersey retirement and the record-setting save, there was plenty of good baseball, much of it played by the Wild Things’ outfielders.
“Chris Sidick was such a big name for the Wild Things,” said Kalamar, who is in his second season with Washington after playing college ball at Seton Hall.
“It was cool that on the night we retired his number, the outfielders played well. It was fitting that we kept up the tradition he was part of.”
Washington’s outfielders made several Sidick-like catches. Dore made the diving catch in the right-centerfield gap in the middle of the game, and Heck tracked down Madison Beaird’s drive to center field while smacking into the wall. Had Heck not been able to hold onto the ball, the Grizzlies would have been able to bring the potential tying run to the plate against Kountis.
“We pitched well and made some great plays in the outfield,” Washington manager Bob Bozzuto said. “If you make the plays you’re supposed to make, and get a couple of special plays, like we got from Jose Dore and Andrew Heck, then good things are going to happen.”
And if you don’t make the routine defensive plays, then bad things are likely to follow. That was the case for Gateway, as two throwing errors early in the game by third baseman T.J. Bennett on balls hit by Garrett Rau led to two unearned runs.
Rau led off the bottom of the first against Tucker Jensen (8-4) by reaching on a two-base throwing error by Barrett. Rau moved to third on a groundout to the right side of the infield by Ryan Kresky and scored on a sacrifice fly by Kalamar.
Gateway tied the score at 1-1 on Landon Hernandez’s solo homer in the second off Washington starter Troy Marks (4-1). It was the only run allowed by Marks over six innings. He gave up three hits and struck out four.
The Wild Things took the lead for good in the bottom of the second. Consecutive two-out singles by Heck, Dore and second baseman Austin Wobrock – the latter getting his first professional hit – made it 2-1. Rau then reached on another throwing error and Dore scored from second base to make the score 3-1.
Kalamar hit his seventh homer of the season – all since June 29 – to push the lead to 4-1 in the third.
The score remained unchanged until the eighth, when consecutive doubles by Kale Kiser and Josh Adams off reliever Chris O’Hare pulled Gateway to within 4-2. O’Hare, who had retired the first five batters he faced, was replaced by Al Yevoli, who threw one pitch and got Ben Waldrip to ground out, ending the eighth.
Kountis pitched the ninth for the record-setting save. He received a plaque from the Wild Things after the game and an on-field ice-bucket bath from teammate Shawn Blackwell.
Washington began the night in a three-way tie for second place in the East Division, a half-game behind leader Southern Illinois. The Miners lost 6-5 to Florence while Washington and Evansville were winners. That moves the Wild Things and Otters back into a first-place tie, a half-game ahead of Southern Illinois with Lake Erie one game back in fourth place.
The Wild Things also increase their advantage to 3½ games over Gateway, which is currently the first team out of a wild-card playoff spot.
“We’re not putting any more significance in this series than any other,” Kalamar said. “We knew all of our final 15 games would be important, it didn’t matter who we were playing. It was good to get a win after River City just took two out of three from us.”
Hernandez is a graduate assistant coach at the University of Hawaii, where one of his players is Wobrock. … Yevoli made his 49th appearance of the year, which ties the Wild Things’ single-season record. Stephen Spragg pitched in 43 games in 2006 and Justin Edwards was in 43 in 2009.