Opportunity knocked … and knocked … and knocked.
The Wild Things never answered.
And it proved costly in a game they should have won.
Christian Funk hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning, powering the Windy City ThunderBolts to a 3-2 victory over Washington on Thursday night at Wild Things Park.
It was the first professional home run by Funk, who was signed by Windy City on Tuesday after being released by Gateway. Funk was a power hitter at Oklahoma State, where he played this spring. He proved as much in ninth inning when he lofted a pitch from Washington reliever Jesus Balaguer (2-3) for a towering two-run homer that landed in the parking lot beyond right field and gave Windy City a 3-1 lead.
The victory was the first for Windy City in six games this season against Washington and prevented the Wild Things from leapfrogging the ThunderBolts and moving into third place in the Frontier League’s East Division. The Wild Things had outscored the ThunderBolts 40-13 in their first five meetings.
“When we’ve played (Washington), those guys have turned into the 1927 New York Yankees,” Windy City manager Brian Smith said. “I’m glad (Funk) flew in to Pittsburgh on Monday. We told him we expect big things from him. I’ve only seen him hit eight times, so naturally I’m expecting that from him every other night.
“This win is a huge morale boost for us. New guy comes in, and in a pressure situation delivers against a team that had our number.”
The numbers Washington will remember about this one are 1, 9 and 12. The Wild Things were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and they left 12 runners on base, including the bases loaded in the fifth and eighth innings.
“It goes back to our hitting with runners in scoring position, especially with two outs. It has not been good,” Washington manager Gregg Langbehn said. “That is what we needed all night.”
After Funk’s home run gave Windy City a 3-1 lead, Washington’s Cameron Baranek began the bottom of the ninth by drawing a walk off reliever Colby Blueberg (2-1). However, with Baranek inexplicably running on a pitch, Shaine Hughes hit a hard line drive to center fielder Tyler Straub. After making the catch for the first out of the inning, Straub threw to first base and easily doubled up Baranek, who was past second base when the catch was made in the outfield.
As luck would have it for Washington this season, Hector Roa followed with a solo home run off the scoreboard in left centerfield to make it a one-run game. It was Roa’s eighth home run of the season and capped a huge series for the Washington right fielder. Roa had four doubles, a triple and two home runs in the three games.
The game was a tremendous pitchers’ duel for much of the night. Washington starter Nick Wegmann allowed one run on six hits and two walks over eight impressive innings. He struck out seven.
“We pitched good,” Langbehn said. “Nick did a great job.”
Windy City’s Tyler Thornton was equally impressive and he allowed five hits, three walks and one run in 6 2/3 innings. He consistently pitched in and out of trouble.
Windy City took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Randy Perez’s two-out double into the left-field corner scored Funk, who had walked. The pivotal ninth inning for the T-Bolts also included a walk as Chase Cockrell reached base on a 3-2 pitch before Funk’s home run.
Washington tied it in the fifth when Ryan Cox scored on a bases-loaded infield single by Roa.
“We had our chances. That has been the story of our season,” Langbehn said as he crumbled the night’s boxscore and tossed it into the trash.
Washington begins a key three-game series tonight at Lake Erie, the East Division’s first-place team. The Crushers moved to 7½ games ahead of the Wild Things by completing a series sweep of West Division-leader Florence.