A homestand that began with so much promise for the Wild Things after beating Southern Illinois twice in three games ended with a wimper Sunday.
Florence catcher Mike Gulino hit a grand slam in the second inning and three pitchers combined on a six-hitter as the Freedom defeated Washington 4-3 to cap a series sweep of the Wild Things.
Those are the kind of things that happen when you’re always playing from behind.
Washington led at the end of only one inning in the three-game series against Florence. That lead was after the first inning Sunday as the Wild Things got off to a fast start and led 2-0.
But Washington was unable to get a shutdown inning as the Wild Things’ inability to turn an inning-ending double play and two walks proved costly.
With a runner on first base and one out in the second, Taylor Bryant hit a chopper back to Washington pitcher John Havird (2-2), who turned and threw wide to second base. The Wild Things’ Shaine Bryant was able to stretch and make the catch for a forceout of Bryant but could not make a relay throw to first base.
That set up consecutive walks to Connor Crane and Brandon Pugh that loaded the bases. Gulino, the No. 9 hitter in the Florence lineup, lofted a fly ball to right field for his first home run of the season. Gulino entered the game with a .212 batting average.
“Mike’s best tool is his hitting, he just hadn’t shown it until this game,” Florence manager Dennis Pelfrey said.
And just like that, the Wild Things were playing catch-up ball again, trailing 4-2.
Florence starter Mike Castellani (3-1), who was released by both Washington and Florence last year, threw eight innings and shut out the Wild Things over the final seven. Castellini gave up five hits and two runs (one earned).
Relievers Brian McKenna and Karl Craige, the latter earning his first save, got the final three outs.
“After getting two runs in the first, we don’t turn a double play and follow it with two walks. That has been our M.O. for 28 games,” Washington manager Gregg Langbehn said, obviously frustrated by his team’s 9-19 start to the season.
“We either walk too many guys or we don’t get shutdown innings. We can’t maintain any momentum that we get.”
Washington had the early momentum when center fielder Saige Jenco led off the bottom of the first with his sixth home run of the season and second in as many days. Washington made it 2-0 three batters later. Hector Roa hit a long fly ball to right centerfield that was out of the reach of Florence’s diving Brandon Pugh. Roa had a triple on the play, but a bad relay throw allowed him to advance another 90 feet and give Washington a 2-0 lead.
The Wild Things, however, didn’t have another baserunner reach scoring position until the seventh inning and were unable to score again against Castellani, a soft-tossing, strike-throwing lefty.
“Mike is what’s missing in baseball these days,” Pelfrey said. “We’re in an era with hard-throwing guys who are wildly effective. Mike just gets guys out. We do all these things like the International Tiebreaker to speed up the game, but what speeds up the game is a pitcher who is effective in the strike zone and hopes his defense holds up.”
Florence went to the bullpen to start the ninth and Roa hit a leadoff homer against McKenna to make it 4-3.
Washington begins a six-game road trip Tuesday at Southern Illinois. ... The Wild Things are 0-6 in one-run games. ... Roa leads the Frontier League with 24 RBI.