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.