Scott Kalamar’s transformation from singles hitter to power hitter is complete.
And his power surge just might be enough to push the Wild Things into the Frontier League playoffs and possibly the East Division title.
Kalamar hit his second home run in as many nights, a three-run shot during Washington’s four-run first inning, and sparked the Wild Things to an 11-3 victory over the Gateway Grizzlies Saturday night before 2,798 at Consol Energy Park.
The win moved Washington into sole possession of first place in the East Division, a half-game ahead of both Evansville and Southern Illinois. Evansville was rained out at Rockford while Southern Illinois defeated Florence.
The first six Washington batters reached base against Gateway starter Tyler Thompson (3-4) during the big first inning.
Garrett Rau led off with a hard smash off the glove off third baseman T.J. Barrett for what was ruled a hit. Ryan Kresky then pushed a bunt down the first-base line that was fielded by the Grizzlies’ Ben Waldrip, who flipped the ball to Thompson. Kresky, however, hustled down the line beat Thompson to the bag for an infield single.
Kalamar then hit the first pitch he saw from Thompson off the videoboard in right field for his second home run of the series and a 3-0 lead.
Kalamar, who joined the Wild Things at midseason last year, did not hit his first career home run until June 29 of this year, a grand slam at Lake Erie. It ended a string of 86 games and 243 at-bats without a home run.
Since that game, Kalamar has eight home runs in a span of 156 at-bats and has been the impact bat in the Wild Things’ lineup.
“I always knew the power potential was there,” Kalamar said. “Maybe it was just a matter of getting the monkey off my back and getting that first career home run. I’ve been more confident since that first one.”
Kalamar, who batted only .185 last season, had a solo home run Friday night in Washington’s 4-2 win over Gateway.
“I know everybody was concerned about his hitting last year, but the ball has a different sound coming off Scotty’s bat,” Washington manager Bob Bozzuto said. “It was a matter of him feeling comfortable at the plate and letting his talent come out. He’s a strong kid who has a big, powerful swing.”
Carter Bell, the Wild Things’ cleanup hitter, followed Kalamar’s homer with a double to the center-field wall, and William Beckwith and Maxx Garrett drew walks to load the bases. After allowing six consecutive batters to reach base, Thompson got Jim Vahalik to bounce into a double play as Bell scored to make it a 4-0 game.
Kresky walked with one out in the second and scored on a two-out single by Bell to give the Wild Things a 5-0 lead.
Washington broke the game open by sending 11 batters to the plate in the fifth inning and scoring six runs to push the lead to 11-0. Vahalik had a two-run single on a two-strike pitch with the bases loaded and Austin Wobrock added a two-run single to left centerfield that made the score 9-0. Rau bounced into a groundout as Andrew Heck scored to make it 10-0, and Wobrock scored from second base on Kresky’s infield single.
Washington starter Shawn Blackwell (10-4) struggled with his control but took a shutout into the sixth inning before walking pinch-hitter garrett Vail and giving up consecutive doubles to Ben Waldrip and Michael Wing.
Vail hit a solo homer leading off the eighth against reliever Zach LeBarron.
The Wild Things wore jerseys with teal-colored sleeves and trim as part of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Night. The jerseys were auctioned off during the game. … Gateway catcher Landon Hernandez, who is a graduate assistant coach at the University of Hawaii, retired after the game so he can return to school and his coaching duties. Hernandez played five seasons in the Frontier League and was an all-league selection each of the last three years. He hit 64 career home runs, including one in the series opener. Hernandez was the Grizzlies’ designated hitter in his final game and was brought in to pitch for the first time in his career in the bottom of the eighth. He pitched a scoreless inning, giving up one hit and a walk. … Gateway began the night as the first team out of a playoff spot. The Grizzlies trailed Lake Erie by 2½ games for that last postseason berth. Gateway is 11-20 over its last 31 games.