There are two tight races going on in the Frontier League’s East Division.
First-place Lake Erie entered Tuesday night leading Schaumburg by one game at the top of the standings, but that’s not the closest battle. Washington, Windy City and Joliet each began play with 30 wins and are trying to stay out the division’s basement and keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
Washington managed to move ahead of Joliet by pulling out a 3-2 victory over the Slammers that kept the fans in Wild Things Park through the final at-bat.
With the score tied 2-2, J.R. Davis hit a one-out triple in the bottom of the ninth inning and Shaine Hughes followed with a bloop single to center field, scoring Davis and giving the Wild Things the win. It was Washington’s third walk-off victory of the season.
Hughes had the game-winning hit but Davis’ shot to the gap in left centerfield was the big one in the ninth. It came off Joliet lefty reliever Mario Samuel (3-3), who pitched 2 2/3 innings.
“All I’m trying to do is get on base and let someone drive me in. I just want to hit the ball where it’s pitched,” said Davis, who joined the Wild Things in late July.
“We have big gaps here. The lefty (Samuel) had thrown me changeups in my previous at-bat and I popped it up. I was looking for it in the ninth.”
Davis got the changeup and the ball screamed triple as it left the bat. Launched to the gap in left centerfield, it got past Slammers center fielder London Lindley, who had no chance to cut it off, and rolled all the way to the wall. Davis didn’t stop running until making a head-first dive into third base.
“He saw it hit that gap and was thinking three bases all the way,” Washington manager Gregg Langbehn said. “With the big gaps in this ballpark, you have to be thinking three.”
Hughes then dunked a fly ball in front of Lindley, who was playing shallow.
“Shaine got a couple of pitches that were slightly out of the strike zone that he couldn’t get to. Then he got one that wasn’t elevated high enough and was able to get it over the infield,” Langbehn explained.
Jesus Balaguer (4-3), the third Washington pitcher, was the winner. Balaguer did a good job in the top of the ninth, getting what turned out to be five outs in the frame because of an error and strikeout-wild pitch but escaped unscathed and set up the wild finish.
Joliet’s only runs came in the fifth against Washington starter A.J. Bogucki, who was very good. Riley Krane hit a double and scored on an error when a throw from the outfield following a flyout bounced over the Joliet dugout and tied the score at 1-1. Dash Winningham then gave the Slammers the lead with a solo home run, his 14th of the season, down the right-field line. Winningham hit a 3-0 pitch from Bogucki.
Bogucki gave up six hits and two walks over six innings. He struck out nine.
“A.J. was good. He had better command of his secondary pitches,” Langbehn said.
Washington tied the score at 2-2 when catcher Cody Erickson homered in the sixth off Joliet starter Matt Quintana in the sixth. The Wild Things had forged a 1-0 lead in the third when Ryan Cox doubled into the left-field corner and scored on a single by Davis.
Davis was 2-for-5 with a run and an RBI.
“He has solidified the No. 2 hole in the lineup,” Langbehn said. “We’ve been able to put him in there and let him do his thing.”
In his last two starts, Bogucki has 19 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings. … Winningham tied Washington’s Hector Roa for the league’s home run lead. … Over the weekend, Washington traded third baseman Wander Franco to New Britain of the Atlantic League for a player to be named. Franco was on the Wild Things’ suspended list after playing in 30 games at the beginning of the season and hitting .283. … Washington and Evansville will play a doubleheader Saturday at Wild Things Park. The first game will start at 5:05 p.m. and be the resumption of a game suspended June 20. It will pick up with Washington leading 1-0 in the bottom of the second inning.