Mired in the bottom half of the standings in mid-August can be dreary terrain for a Frontier League team.
Several weeks of games remain in the regular season and the anticipation that ordinarily accompanies each contest just isn't there.
Sometimes a team needs something out of the ordinary to happen to make the day more interesting.
The Windy City ThunderBolts got as much early Friday, though they might not have thought so at the time.
After playing at home, in the Chicago suburb of Crestwood, Ill., on Thursday night, the ThunderBolts embarked on a trip to Washington that became anything but routine. The team’s bus broke down at about 2 a.m. somewhere in western Indiana.
“We were two hours into the drive and a belt broke. It caused a battery problem. The bus just died. The driver was able to get it to the side of the interstate but we didn’t have any power, no air conditioning,” Windy City manager Brian Smith explained.
“They worked on it for two hours before it was decided that a new bus would be sent to us. It was frustrating. All we could do was sit around. When we got the new bus, the driver said ‘Go to sleep. I’ll get your there.’ Instead of getting to Washington at 7 a.m., we got here at 1:40 in the afternoon. But when we got (to Wild Things Park), we came out swinging.”
Windy City scored three first-inning runs, and Michael Mateja hit a tiebreaking RBI double in the fifth inning as the ThunderBolts defeated the Wild Things, 5-3, Friday night.
Counting a suspended game that was completed last Saturday, Washington has lost seven in a row.
It’s not, however, like the Wild Things didn’t have chances in this latest loss. Washington left 11 runners on base — at least one in each of the first eight innings — and stranded eight in scoring position.
After Windy City took a 3-0 lead in the first inning against Washington starter Josh Lapiana (0-3), the Wild Things tied the score with a three-run fourth against Windy City starter Chris Washington (3-8). A sacrifice fly by Ryan Cox scored Stephen Lohr with the Wild Things' first run and J.R. Davis smacked a two-run double to right centerfield.
In the next half-inning, Lapiana walked Christian Funk, the No. 9 hitter in the ThunderBolts’ batting order, and Mateja doubled off the wall in left centerfield to give Windy City a 4-3 lead.
“Our situational hitting has been poor all year. That’s why we’ve scored 15 runs in the last eigth games,” Washington manager Gregg Langbehn said. “We get back in the game and then can’t get a shutdown inning. The situation just repeats itself.”
Washington squandered chance after chance to tie or take the lead. Blake Adams had a one-out double in the sixth but did not advance. Hector Roa was at third base with one out in the seventh but he too was stranded. In the eighth, Drew Bene was on second base with one out but that’s as far as he advanced.
Windy City closer Colby Blueberg ended Washington’s string of scoring chances as he struck out the side in the ninth for his sixth save.
Tyler Straub gave Blueberg some margin for error when he hit his second home run of the season in the top of the ninth off Washington reliever Zach Strecker. Both of Straub’s home runs have come at Wild Things Park.
Prior to the game, Washington placed two players, first baseman Alex Murphy and outfielder Jose Medina, on the season-ending 60-day disabled list. Murphy has been bothered by a sore knee. Medina was signed last weekend and was only 2-for-20 in six games. The Wild Things have the league minimum 22 players on the active roster and had just one position player on the bench. … The home run by Straub was the first earned run allowed by Strecker since June 25.