If Game 1 of the Frontier League playoffs is indicative of what is to come, this may well be another cruel September for the Wild Things.
Starter Jared Mortensen and two relievers combined on a two-hit shutout and Equipe Quebec defeated the Wild Things 9-0 in Game 1 of the best-of-5 Can-Am Conference finals Tuesday night.
Game 2 is today (1:05 p.m.) with Ryan Hennen (11-3), the Frontier League Pitcher of the Year, scheduled to start for Washington against Quebec’s Codie Paiva (7-5). The series shifts to Canada on Friday.
Quebec, which had to win Sunday’s regular-season finale at Sussex County to gain the Atlantic Division title and qualify for the postseason, got the jump on Washington by scoring six times in the first four innings against Washington starter Rob Whalen.
The game resembled many of the Wild Things’ playoff games of the past. Timely hits against crafty pitchers were nearly impossible to produce.
Washington’s only hits came in the third inning, a broken-bat single by first baseman Andrew Czech and a two-out single through the left side of the infield by second baseman Scotty Dubrule. The Wild Things loaded the bases with two outs that inning but Bralin Jackson’s groundout ended the only Washington threat.
Mortensen, a 33-year-old righthander, and Marshall Shill combined to retire 16 consecutive Washington hitters after the Dubrule single. The streak was broken when Andrew Sohn drew a leadoff walk off reliever Nick Horvath to begin the ninth inning.
Mortensen threw seven shutout innings, walking two and striking out eight.
The first former major leaguer to play for the Wild Things, Whalen struggled with his control from the outset. He walked two of the first four Quebec batters but worked out of a bases-loaded one-out jam in the first inning, when he threw 31 pitches. Whalen wasn’t as fortunate in the second inning, and an error played a part in that.
Whalen walked former Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Gift Ngoepe to start the inning and Jonathan Lacroix followed a ground ball to shortstop Nick Ward, whose throw to second base was wide and rolled all the way into the Wild Things’ bullpen down the right-field line as Ngoepe ended up on third base. Jesse Hodges, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, then slapped an 0-2 pitch for a two-run double inside the third-base bag to open the scoring.
The lead went to 3-0 in the third when Connor Panas hit a high chopper back to Whalen, whose only play was to first base as Raphael Gladu raced home from third base.
If the first three innings didn’t have the Wild Things thinking this wouldn’t be their night, then the fourth did. Consecutive singles by Lacroix and Jesse Hodges to start the inning set up a run-scoring fielder’s choice by L.P. Pelletier, and David Glaude followed with a two-run homer to right centerfield that put Quebec up 6-0.
Whalen lasted only four innings, giving up seven hits and six runs (five earned), walking two and striking out three.
Quebec scored two runs in the seventh on an infield single and ensuing throwing error. Designated hitter Jeffry Parra belted a two-out solo home run on an 0-2 pitch from reliever Dan Kubiuk in the eighth to end the scoring.
Game 2 time change
With rain in the forecast for today, and with Thursday scheduled to be a travel day – the teams will go almost 800 miles to Quebec City for the final three games of the series – the start time of Game 2 today has been moved up to 1:05 p.m.
“It was a collective decision, the league and ourselves,” Wild Things president and general manager Tony Buccilli. “After reviewing the (weather) forecast, and with the extended travel to Quebec, we didn’t want to get into a situation where we were here until 3 or 4 in the morning and then traveling to Quebec. This gives us some flexibility to find a window.”
Washington is 7-6 all-time in the first game of a playoff series. That does not include a win over Evansville in a wild-card game in 2014. … Though it had a better regular-season record than Quebec, Washington forfeited home-field advantage for the playoff series because of a conflict with concerts that are scheduled at Wild Things Park on Friday and Saturday. Quebec will host Games 3, 4 and 5 instead of the first two. … Washington is 33-19 at home this year but only 6-7 against Quebec.