The magic is back at Wild Things Park.
Washington capped one of its best months at home in years Saturday night with one of its best wins of the season.
The Wild Things got a game-tying home run from designated hitter Grant Heyman in the seventh inning and a go-ahead triple from left fielder Bralin Jackson in a four-run eighth to rally for a 6-2 victory over the Tri-City ValleyCats before a crowd of 2,674 enthusiastic fans.
The win was the sixth in a row for the Wild Things, who moved to within 4½ games of first-place Sussex County in the Northeast Division. Washington will play four games in three days at Sussex County starting Tuesday.
The Wild Things’ charge has started with its performance at home, where they went 12-2 in July and have won 14 times in their last 16 games.
“This place is special,” said first baseman Andrew Czech, who scored the Wild Things’ first run with a solo home run, his 14th of the season, in the third inning. “You have to protect your territory.”
Washington manager Tom Vaeth said the difference between July and June, when the Wild Things were scuffling, is belief in themselves and their teammates.
“Confidence plays a lot into it. There was not a lot of confidence in this group back then,” Vaeth admitted. “Tonight, there was a lot of confidence. These guys expect good things. Even when we were behind, there was a belief in the dugout that we would find a way to get it done.”
Washington got it done with good pitching for nine innings and good hitting for one, with two solo home runs mixed in.
Czech’s homer in the third came off Tri-City starter Bruce Bell, who was signed earlier in the day. He pitched into the sixth inning and left with a 2-1 lead. Bell allowed three hits and three walks but he induced two inning-ending double plays.
Tri-City still led 2-1 when Heyman, who had been having a rough homestand at the plate, hit the first pitch in the bottom of the seventh from ValleyCats reliever Francisco Jimenez for a game-tying home run to right field.
“This is my seventh season playing and know that you’re only one good game from getting back on track,” Heyman said.
The home run must have done the trick because he played a key role in Washington’s four-run eighth. Before Heyman could get to the plate, Andrew Sohn and Scotty Dubrule hit consecutive one-out singles off reliever Patrick Murphy (0-1).
Tri-City then brought in Trey Cochran-Gill, who is tied for the league lead with 15 saves. The first batter he faced was Jackson, who went the opposite way with a pitch and lined it into the right-field corner for a triple that gave Washington a 4-2 lead. Heyman followed with an RBI single through the right side of the infield. Singles by Hector Roa and Trevor Casanova scored Heyman, and the Wild Things had six consecutive hits and a 6-2 lead.
“That was a good ballgame. That was a really well-played baseball game. Every pitch mattered. Both teams pitched it and fielded it,” Vaeth said.
Perhaps no at-bat meant more than one in the top of the seventh. With Tri-City leading 2-1 and the ValleyCats having runners on first and second with two outs, Washington lefty reliever B.J. Sabol was to face right-handed hitting catcher Oscar Campos. Vaeth, however, opted for an unconventional strategy. Because this year’s new Frontier League pitching rule required Sabol to face three batters – Campos would be the third -- Vaeth intentionally walked the ValleyCats’ leadoff hitter, loading the bases.
Vaeth wanted Sabol to face lefthanded-hitting Zach Biermann. Tri-City had used all of its available pinch-hitters and could not replace Biermann with a righthander. Sabol struck out Biermann to end the inning.
The game’s next pitch was Heyman’s home run.
“There is no way I was going to let B.J. pitch to Campos,” Vaeth said. “That’s nothing against B.J., but I knew he (Tri-City manager Pete Incaviglia) had exhausted his bench and had to leave Biermann in to face B.J.”
Reliever James Meeker (1-0), who retired the Valley Cats in the eighth inning on only four pitches to extend his streak of consecutive scoreless innings to 33, was the winning pitcher. Starter Ben Vicini pitched into the seventh but did not figure into the decision. The rookie from Seton Hill University scattered seven hits and did not issue a walk. He got a nice ovation from the crowd as he exited with one out in the seventh.
“The crowd tonight was great,” Vaeth said. “They kept us in the game and acknowledged (Vicini) for his performance. That was great to see because he deserved it.”
Casanova, Washington’s catcher, made his first start in right field. … Tri-City’s Juan Silverio had an RBI double in the second and scored on a fielder’s choice. … Dubrule went 1-for-4 and has hit safely in all 12 games with the Wild Things.