If a book were to be written about the Wild Things’ season, the first, middle and final chapters could be about Washington’s struggles in one-run games. It was been the story of the season.
The Wild Things suffered more one-run misery Wednesday night, which led to another gut-wrenching loss, 2-1, to the Joliet Slammers.
The loss dropped Washington’s record to an unthinkable 6-20 in one-run games, but this one probably hurt more than the first 19.
Washington led 1-0 as starting pitcher Michael Austin took a three-hit shutout into the top of the ninth inning. Austin was so dominant that he faced the minimum number of batters for the first 6 2/3 innings.
Joliet starter Darren Osby (2-5) was equally as strong, allowing only three hits over eight innings. The lone blip on Osby’s stat line was a solo home run by Washington’s Hector Roa that began the bottom of the second inning.
“It was a pitcher’s duel from the start,” Joliet manager Jeff Isom said. “Roa swung the bat well and Washington was able to get a run early. Fortunately, we were able to shut everything down after that.”
Austin and Osby each pitched like they had someplace else to go and were running late. Austin retired 19 of the first 20 Joliet hitters. The only Slammer to reach base during that stretch was Clayton Harp, who led off the third inning with a single but was caught stealing. Osby, meanwhile, retired 17 consecutive Washington hitters at one stretch.
“That game turned into a Michael Austin and Darren Osby story,” Washington manager Gregg Langbehn said. “It was a well-pitched game by both guys. Austin deserved to be out there to start the ninth. He has done a fantastic job in his last eight starts.
“Osby is a top-5 pitcher in the league. I think highly of him. He’s a fantastic pitcher. He really is.”
The first 5 1/2 innings lasted only 66 minutes and it took less than 90 minutes to play seven full innings.
The game, however, fell apart for Washington in the top of the ninth, when Joliet scored both of its runs on only one hit, a leadoff single by Chaz Meadows, the No. 9 batter in the Slammers’ lineup. Meadows hit a line drive to the left off Washington shortstop Ryan Cox, who tried to make a diving catch but had the ball glance off the tip of his glove.
“If Cox is one step to his left, then he makes that catch,” Isom said. “It’s a game of inches for us.”
Meadows was the final batter Austin faced. Closer Zach Strecker was then brought in to pitch to Riley Krane, who hit a hard shot that Washington third baseman Shaine Hughes went to his knees to backhand. Hughes spun toward second base, and as he started to make a throw to force out Meadows the ball dropped from his grasp, giving Joliet two runners on base with no outs.
Oliver Nunez’s bunt advanced the runners, and Washington manager Gregg Langbehn chose to intentionally walk dangerous Dash Winningham to load the bases and set up a force play at home plate or a potential game-ending double play.
“I wasn’t going to pitch to Winningham in that situation,” Langbehn said. “Strecker has walked only eight guys all year. That decision was a no-brainer for me.”
Strecker jumped ahead in the count at 1-2 on Harrison Bragg but walked the Slammers’ left fielder, forcing in the tying run. On the next pitch, Peyton Isaacson lofted a sacrifice fly that gave the Slammers the lead.
Washington had a chance in the bottom of the ninth when Hughes doubled into the left-field corner, but Joliet closer Ryan Koziol struck out Roa to end the game. It was Koziol’s 19th save.
Roa had given Washington a 1-0 lead when he homered to left centerfield – the deepest part of the ballpark. Roa also tripled off the wall in right centerfield with two outs in the seventh but was stranded.
Washington had four hits, none of them a single. … Austin has allowed two earned runs or less in eight of his last nine starts.