Jason Kane

The Wild Things’ Jason Kane, right, delivered the game-winning hit in a 2003 Frontier League contest against Kalamazoo that included one of Washington’s worst starts and one of its best finishes.

Today’s “When Sports Were Played” goes back exactly 17 years, to July 1, 2003, when the Washington Wild Things overcame a dreadful first inning and an eight-run deficit to beat the Kalamazoo Kings.

After losing two consecutive games with listless performances and surrendering 15 runs while being drubbed Monday by Kalamazoo, the Wild Things desperately needed a good start last night against the Kings.

So what kind of start did Washington get? Try this:

  • Three-quarters of the Wild Things’ infield committed a throwing error before the game was two outs old.
  • Six batters into the first inning, Kalamazoo had hit only one ball out of the infield, yet led 4-0.
  • The Kings sent 11 batters to the plate in the first and led 7-0 at its conclusion. All seven of the runs against Washington starter Ben Ally were unearned.

It was a brutal way for a scuffling team to start a game.

But there were eight more innings to play and the Wild Things were determined to use them to their advantage. So they chewed away at Kalamazoo’s lead like termites in a lumber yard, and when Jason Kane hit a three-run homer off reliever Keith Nawrocki in the bottom of the eighth, the Wild Things had secured a wild and stunning 12-11 come-from-behind victory before 3,287 at Falconi Field.

Kane came to plate with no outs, runners on first and second and Kalamazoo leading 11-9.

“Everybody in the park expected a bunt,” said Wild Things manager Jeff Isom.

Everybody, that is, except Washington hitting coach Joe Charboneau.

“Bunting was the right thing to do, but I looked at Joe for a second opinion,” Isom said. “He said Jason was having good at-bats, so we let him swing.”

And why argue with Charboneau? After all, it was Joe Charboneau Mini-Bobblehead Doll Night.

So Kane swung at the first pitch he saw from Nawrocki (0-2) and drove it over the second tier of fence in right field.

“I expected to get the bunt sign,” said Kane, the Wild Things’ left-handed hitting third baseman. “When I didn’t get it, I was trying to drive the ball hard to the gap. I got a good pitch to hit.”

Kane, who was 1-for-5, almost had a three-run homer in the fourth that would have cut Kalamazoo’s lead to 10-8. Instead, he hit the ball into the teeth of a strong wind that was blowing in from right field, ahead of a storm front. The wind knocked the ball down at the edge of the warning track.

“I hit the first one harder than the second,” said Kane. “I definitely thought the first one was gone. The second one, I didn’t know about.”

The 7-0 first-inning deficit wasn’t the largest of the game for Washington (22-12). The Wild Things trailed 10-2 in the fourth, but they scored three times in the fourth and added four more in the seventh to pull to within 10-9. Kalamazoo (13-21) added what seemed like an insurance run in the eighth, but the Wild Things responded by putting together another amazing comeback in the bottom of the inning.

It was quite a change from the game’s beginning.

“I didn’t have anything to say to the guys after the top of the first,” said Isom. “I got out of the dugout as soon as the third out was made. They knew they couldn’t make three errors and give up four hits and seven runs, especially after the way we played Monday night.”

Anthony Kozol (2-0), the third Washington pitcher, was the winner, pitching two innings. Kozol entered in the top of the eighth with the bases loaded and no outs. He escaped by allowing only a sacrifice fly.

Kane, who also hit two run-scoring groundouts, finished with five RBI. First baseman Zach Cates went 3-for-5 and hit his seventh home run leading off the bottom of the second.

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