Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Game 2 postponed

Paul Baillargeon / For the Observer-Reporter
Frontier League commissioner Bill Lee and Wild Things manager Bob Bozzuto discuss the playing conditions Wednesday night prior to Game 2 of the Frontier League playoff series at River City being postponed because of rain.

Game 2 of the Wild Things-River City Rascals series scheduled for tonight has been postponed because of rain. It will be played Thursday night (8:05 p.m.) and Game 3, if necessary, will be Friday night.

Paul Baillargeon / For the Observer-Reporter
The ground crew and interns check the tarp at T.R. Hughes Ballpark Wednesday evening.

Forecast not promising

It's not looking like a good night for baseball in O'Fallon, Mo.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Game 1 lineups

Here are the lineups for Game 1 of the Divisional Series between the Wild Things and River City Rascals tonight at Consol Energy Park:

River City
LF - Eric Williams
SS - Johnny Morales
C - Saxon Butler
DH - Joe Staley
1B - Brian McConkey
2B - Hector Crespo
RF - Jon Myers
CF - Curran Redal
3B - Steve Carilloo
P - Tommy Mendoza (9-3, 3.40)

CF - Danny Poma
1B - Garrett Rau
RF - Scott Kalamar
3B - Carter Bell
C - Jim Vahalik
DH - Maxx Garrett
LF - Andrew Heck
SS - Ryan Kresky
2B - Austin Wobrock
P - Troy Marks (5-1, 2.45)

UPDATE: Washington made a lineup change at 6:40 p.m., moving Vahalik to the No. 5 spot and Garrett to the No. 6 position in the batting order.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

No. 1,000

The post below this one was No. 1,000 for this blog. Back in May of 2007, somebody at the O-R basically created this blog for me and said "Here you go. You have a blog. Now start posting." I thought I would have stopped long before 2014 and 1,000 posts.

Here or there?

There will be no division title this year for the Wild Things but they can still play their first home playoff game since 2007. They will have two shots to do the latter, the first coming tonight. If they beat Evansville in the regular-season finale, then the Wild Things will host the Otters in the one-game wild-card playoff Saturday. A Washington loss sends both teams to Evansville.

When you break it down to its most simple form, tonight's game basically determines not much more than who will have the final at-bat Saturday. Sure, both teams want to play a postseason game at home in front of their own fans. It has been seven years since Washington has played a postseason game at home. Evansville hasn't played a home playoff game since 2006. And Evansville wants to play the game on grass at Bosse Field while Washington prefers to play on turf at Consol Energy Park. And the winner tonight will finish in second place, not third place like the loser.

But the only thing that is going to matter Saturday when the first pitch is thrown is who is batting in the top of the inning and which team is batting in the bottom half.

So, do you go all-out to win tonight, knowing you have an off day on Friday? Or do you hold back some pitching for Saturday? Those are questions manager Bob Bozzuto had to ponder late last night and today.

"You want to host because the two fields are not the same," Bozzuto said. "One is grass and one is turf. One has true hops the other does not. We lost two games at Evansville because we had balls bounce over a fielder's head at the last second. We'd like to win (tonight), earn it and host Saturday. It also comes down to some pride, finishing one spot higher in the standings.

"We're 57-38, and some years that would be good enough to win a division. We're in the playoffs, though, and we want to be on our home turf."

Bozzuto said after Wednesday night's game that he had not decided on a starting pitcher for the regular-season finale.

"Honestly, I'm undecided," he said.

The spot in the rotation would be Matt Sergey's. Bozzuto, however, might be considering going with Zac Fuesser on three days of rest for the first time all season.

"That's a double-edged sword," Bozzuto said. "We have to make sure we make the best decision."

Some random leftover notes and thoughts from Wednesday night:

* The game was one of the worst played by each team. During a two-inning stretch, Evansville committed four errors (three by a first baseman who entered the series with only two errors all season) and balked in the tying run on a play (fake throw to third base while on the rubber and then turn and throw to first base) that was legal for more than a century but changed to a balk prior to this year. Washington's night began with its worst start by a pitcher all season and included not scoring with the bases loaded and no outs in the fourth inning, two bad baserunning mistakes, five strikeouts with a runner in scoring position and a pitcher being ejected.

"We didn't have good approaches at the plate with runners in scoring position and that hurt us," Bozzuto said. "We needed to just put the ball in play. We needed to slow the game down."

* Lost among the rubble Wednesday was the performance of Washington reliever Zach LeBarron, who turned in perhaps his best outing of the season. He retired the first 10 batters he faced after relieving starter Shawn Blackwell and gave up only two hits, one run and a walk over 4 2/3 innings.

"He kept us in the game," Bozzuto said. "He gave us a chance."

* Evansville took the lead for good in the seventh inning on a two-run homer by Chris Elder, which came immediately after J.R. Higley drew a two-out walk. Washington rookie reliever Matt Purnell thought he had struck out Higley to end the inning and didn't get a favorable call from plate umpire Drew Ashcraft. After Elder homered, Purnell was ejected.

"In this game, walks come around to score 70 to 80 percent of the time," Bozzuto said. "We were ahead 0-2 in the count and walked (Higley). Whether it was a good call or not, the fact is we were ahead 0-2 and walked him, then lost our composure."

* There used to be a time when the Wild Things signed just about any player they wanted from Pennsylvania. Since Andy McCauley, a native of Allentown, became the Otters' manager several years ago, that has changed. Evansville's roster has four players from eastern Pennsylvania, including league MVP Shayne Houck, a Boyertown native and Kuztown University product. There was another Houck from Boyertown (Kurt Houck), who made the Wild Things' opening day roster in 2010 and pitched in nine games for Washington.

Others Pennsylvanians on the Otters are cleanup hitter Chris Sweeney, relief pitcher Brandon Shimo and outfielder John Schultz. The latter played his college ball at Pitt.

That's why there are so many Evansville fans at CEP for this series. And they were loud Wednesday night.

* Have I mentioned that one-game playoffs are absurd in baseball? What's good for Major League Baseball is not always good for minor-league baseball. Maybe that's a topic for another blog post.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Kountis, Beatty named to all-league team

One current Wild Things player and one former standout were named Sunday to the Frontier League’s end-of-season all-star team.
Relief pitcher Jonathan Kountis and designated hitter C.J. Beatty were among the 11 players selected.

Kountis became the first player in Frontier League history to have 30 saves in a season when he pitched the 10th inning of Washington’s 3-2 victory Friday night at Gateway. Kountis has a 1-4 record and 2.70 ERA. He has converted 30 of 32 save opportunities. Kountis had a streak of 26 consecutive save opportunities converted.

Beatty had his contract purchased by the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 12. At the time, he was batting .275 with 18 home runs, 57 RBI and 15 stolen bases. The 18 home runs ranks fourth in the league. Beatty is currently playing for the Winston-Salem Dash of the Class A Carolina League.

Both Kountis and Beatty are on the all-league team for the second time. Kountis made it in 2012 as a member of the Lake Erie Crushers. He signed with Washington as a free agent during the last offseason. Beatty was the all-league second baseman last year.

Evansville third baseman Shayne Houck (.311, league-leading 22 home runs, 62 RBI) was named the winner of the Morgan Burkhart Award as the league’s Most Valuable player. Houck is a Pennsylvania native and played his college ball in the PSAC at Kutztown before being drafted by the San Francisco Giants.

Southern Illinois starter Matt Bywater (8-4, 2.38 ERA, league-leading 112 strikeouts) won the Brian Tollberg Award as the Pitcher of the Year. Bywater has 14 quality starts in 20 outings.

Rockford second baseman Tanner Witt (.305) won the Jason Simontacchi Award as the Rookie of the Year. Witt is from Kansas State.

Evansville’s Andy McCauley was named Manager of the Year.

Others chosen to the all-league team are catcher Tyler Shover and outfielders Sam Judah and Mike Schwartz of Normal, Florence first baseman Sam Eberle, Lake Erie second baseman Vincent Mejia, Gateway shortstop Michael Wing and Windy City outfielder Kyle Robinson.

The Observer-Reporter was voted the Newspaper of the Year.

Wild Things radio broadcaster Randy Gore received the Commissioner’s Award of Excellence for his broadcasting and community work. Gore was instrumental is organizing the recent Ovarian Cancer Night at Consol Energy Park.

Former Wild Things trainer Rebecca McFeaters, who now works for Rockford, was named the league’s top trainer.

Gateway's Adam Young was chosen as the Broadcaster of the Year and the Grizzlies were named Organization of the Year. Gateway's Steve Gomric was named the Executive of the Year. Joliet infielder Max Casper will receive the Fran Riordan Award for citizenship.

A few random thoughts on the all-league selections and awards:

Beatty being chosen as the DH was the most interesting of those on the 11-player team, if only because of the position at which he was put on the ballot. I don't have the exact number, but Beatty played about 17 games at DH. He did play 58 in left field.

Having Beatty on the ballot as a DH meant that Saxon Butler, who is second in the league in RBI and only one behind the leader, did not make the all-league team.

There were some hard decisions for voters. First base had four viable candidates, shortstop was a tough call between Wing and Southern Illinois' Ryan Cavan, Joe Staley of River City had good power numbers at catcher, and in addition to Witt there were three other solid candidates for Rookie of the Year.

McCauley would not have been my first choice for Manager of the Year. That's not a knock on what he has done with Evansville, which has been at or near the top of the East all season and overcame the loss of three starting pitchers to affiliated ball. What caught my attention is the jobs done by Steve Brook at River City and Chris Mongiardo at Lake Erie.

Brook lost six players to affiliated ball, and we in Washington all know what losing just two players can do to a team's lineup. Also, when River City was in Washington the first time, the Rascals had suffered a rash of injuries and were so depleted that they played one of those games without a position player on the bench.

Mongiardo, who probably should be known as Captain Hook, has Lake Erie currently in a playoff spot despite having to start the season with his best hitter, Andrew Davis, on the disabled list and going through the season with the fewest quality starts (25 so far) of any team except the Greys. Mongiardo has worn out a path between the dugout and pitcher's mound. He has made 306 pitching changes. Evansville has made only 180 pitching changes.

Streak is over

The Wild Things are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

That was assured with an 11-4 win over the Gateway Grizzlies at GCS Ballpark. Third baseman Carter Bell had a first-inning grand slam and Washington never trailed.

The question now is where the Wild Things will finish in the standings?

Entering Sunday, the Wild Things are in third place in the East, 1 1/2 games behind co-leaders Evansville and Southern Illinois. The Otters, who clinched their first playoff berth since winning the league championship under manager Greg Jelks in 2006, have six games remaining including a doubleheader today against Florence. The Otters end the season with four games at Washington beginning Tuesday. Southern Illinois has four games left: today at home against Normal and three at Lake Erie, which currently holds the final wild-card spot. Lake Erie cannot finish high enough in the standings to host a wild-card game.

If Washington finishes in the No. 5 or No. 6 spot, it will play a wild-card playoff game Saturday somewhere in the Central time zone. If Washington finishes in a tie with Southern Illinois, the Wild Things win the tiebreaker based on winning the season series, 4-2. In all likelihood, the second-place team in the West will host one of the wild-card games.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Long, long night in Normal

The Corn Crib during last night's record rain delay.

The final days of a baseball season, when mixed with rain, often leads to some long days and nights at the ballpark.

That was the case last night in Normal, Ill., where the CornBelters and Lake Erie Crushers played the final game of their three-game series at The Corn Crib. Both teams are chasing a playoff berth. The Crushers currently hold the final wild-card spot while Normal went into the night trailing the Crushers by four games with seven to play.

On Fan Appreciation Night, which included a prize of a trip to Cancun, heavy rain rolled into the area after the second inning and the game was delayed. Once a game starts, it is the umpires' decision if play will be resumed or the game will be cancelled. In this case, with the game having playoff implications for both teams and several others around the league, umpires T.J. Cunningham and David Fields decided to wait out the storm.

It was a long one.

The delay lasted 4 hours and 39 minutes.

The game resumed, in the top of the third inning, at 12:39 a.m. local time. That's 1:39 a.m. Eastern. According to one person's tweet from the game, "Lake Erie players, manager doing some world class whining."

Who could blame them?

A quick Google check this morning turned up a listing of longest rain delays in baseball history. According to SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research), last night's game had the 7th-longest rain delay in history, the 4th-longest in professional baseball and the 2nd-longest in independent leagues. The only rain delay in an indy game that was longer than the one in Normal was at Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, N.J., on Aug. 14, 2000, when a Northeast League game between the New Jersey Jackals and Catskill Cougars was delayed at the start for 7 hours and 6 minutes. That game was scheduled to start in the afternoon and ended at 11:06 p.m.

Thus, according to SABR, the rain delay in Normal was the longest in-game delay in independent baseball history.

If you're wondering, the longest rain delay ever recorded was 8 hours and 12 minutes in an NCAA game between Harvard and Delaware in 1978.

The longest rain delay in an MLB game was 7 hours and 23 minutes in a 1990 at Comiskey Park in Chicago. That game between the White Sox and Rangers was never started, then rescheduled for five days later in Texas and was delayed in the bottom of the 5th inning because of a brawl.

When the game finally ended last night in Normal, it was 2:19 a.m., more than seven hours after it started. The seventh-inning stretch was at 1:45 a.m. Normal won the game, 6-3.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Big night for Ijames

Former Wild Things outfielder Stewart Ijames
Here is a story from minor league baseball's site about Stewart Ijames' 6-RBI game Wednesday for the Missosula Osprey.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Revisiting perfection


A few leftover notes from Matt Sergey's nine-inning perfect game Sunday against Gateway:

* Sergey threw 100 pitches. He had not thrown more than 68 pitches in a game since Aug. 21 of last year, when he made a start for Gateway (yes, Gateway) against the Wild Things at Consol Energy Park. Washington won that game 7-1.

* It was the 24th no-hitter in Frontier League history, and the fifth this season (Windy City's Travis Tingle has thrown a five-inning and a seven inning no-hitter), but the first perfect game in the league's 22-year history.

* It was the first no-hitter thrown at Consol Energy Park in a Frontier League game. No pitcher had even come as close as three outs from a no-hitter.

* Gateway pitching coach Randy Martz, who spent four years in the major leagues and has a been a long-time coach, said it was the first perfect game he had witnessed at any level of baseball, "including Little League." Washington pitching coach Kevin Gryboski has seen three perfect games. He was with the Braves when Randy Johnson threw a perfect game for Arizona in Atlanta, and was a teammate of John Halama in Class AAA, when he threw one in the minor leagues.

* Washington catcher Jim Vahalik said he a conversation recently with his father, who asked him if he had ever caught a no-hitter. When Jim said that he had not, father said he had that over his son. He caught one in back in his youth league days. So, after Sergey's perfect game, the younger Vahalik called his father and said, "I guess I have one on you now."

* Sergey said three balls concerned him when they left the bat. One was a ball Ben Waldrip hit in the second inning that was caught by right fielder Jose Dore on the warning track. The other two were hit by second baseman Tommy Richards, and both were caught by left fielder Scott Kalamar on the warning track in left field near the 375-feet sign. One was in the sixth inning and the other was with one out in the ninth.

* Gateway hit four fly balls in the game that were caught on the warning track. No ground balls were hit to Washington third baseman Carter Bell.

* Sergey had a three-ball count on only four batters, including twice against Madison Beaird. Sergey retired him on a popout and flyout. The last three-ball count came against Michael Johnson, who struck out in the seventh inning.

* It was the first time in Gateway's 14 seasons that the Grizzlies were no-hit.

* The game was the last called by Adam Young after four seasons as Gateway's broadcaster. He begins a television/radio job for New Mexico State later this week. It don't know if that's called going out with a bang or a dud.

* The Washington win moved the Wild Things to 5 1/2 games ahead of Gateway for the final wild-card playoff spot. The Grizzlies are currently the first team out of the playoffs with 11 days remaining in the regular season. The Grizzlies still have the schedule helping them, as they play the Greys three times, host the Wild Things for three games over the weekend and end the season with three games at Joliet (34-53).

* After Sunday's game, Gateway manager Phil Warren ripped into his team for its performance against the Wild Things.

"We're lacking serious grit and heart in the clubhouse," Warren said. "That performance was unacceptable to this office and the handful of guys who haven't checked out on the season. We still want to have something to show for all the hard work we did in the first half of the year. ...

"The bottom line is you get what you deserve. Any manager will tell you that luck is a good thing to have, but we haven't had any in the second half of the season. We just haven't played winning baseball in the second half. If somebody watched this series and knew that both teams were in the playoff race, then they would have expected to see more confidence and a better vibe from Gateway. Unfortunately, we have some guys who have checked out for the season."

* I wonder how many people in the ballpark, at game's end, were aware that Sergey's performance was a perfect game and not just a no-hitter?