Grant Heyman won the game for the Wild Things and Zach Strecker saved it, but Nick Ward did a little of both.
Heyman, the Wild Things’ left fielder, hit a tiebreaking three-run homer in the seventh inning that powered Washington to a 5-2 victory over the Tri-City ValleyCats on Tuesday night. It was Washington’s fifth straight win and Heyman’s second consecutive contest at Wild Things Park with a game-winning home run.
Given a lead to work with, Strecker, Washington’s closer, protected it and etched his name into the Frontier League record book. Strecker pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his 19th save of the season and the 71st of his career, which broke the record he shared with former Evansville closer Eric Massingham (2011-2014).
Even with all those good things, the Wild Things still needed a fantastic play by Ward, their shortstop, to cut short a Tri-City rally in the eighth.
The ValleyCats had runners on first and second with one out and lefty Luis Roman at the plate against Washington reliever B.J. Sabol. Roman hit a sharp line drive that appeared headed through the infield for a base hit. Ward, however, went far to his right and made a diving, lunging attempt, snagging the line drive to rob Roman. Ward then hopped up and threw to Scotty Dubrule at second base to double off Willy Garcia to end the inning.
It all added up to a glorious night for the Wild Things, though they were unable to gain ground on first-place Sussex County in the Northeast Division. The Miners defeated New Jersey 7-1 to remain one game ahead of Washington.
Tri-City took a 2-0 lead in the second inning and a player with ties to Washington County had hand in each tally.
ValleyCats shortstop Nelson Molina hit a leadoff drive to left centerfield off Washington starter Daren Osby that appeared to be a certain triple. However, the ball rolled under the fence for a book-rule double.
Where Molina ended up really didn’t matter because center fielder Connor Lien followed with a triple, also to left centerfield, that scored Molina with the game’s first run. Lien then scored on a one-out groundout by catcher Jhon Nunez.
It wasn’t Lien’s first trip to Washington County. He is the grandson of Larry and Jessie Lou Papini of Roscoe, and his mother, Jodi, is a California High School and California University graduate. A former Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners farmhand, Lien had his own cheering section at Wild Things Park.
The Wild Things scored their first run in the bottom of the third. They loaded the bases with no outs against Tri-City starter Jose Cruz but pushed across only one run, on an RBI groundout by Heyman that scored Ward. Heyman finished the night 2-for-3 with two runs, four RBI, a home run and a triple.
Washington tied it at 2-2 and knocked out Cruz in the sixth, getting a triple into the right-field corner by Heyman and a run-scoring double by Trevor Casanova.
In the seventh, Tri-Valley reliever Patrick Murphy (1-2) issued consecutive two-out walks to Dubrule and Bralin Jackson. The ValleyCats then went to their bullpen and reliever Francisco Jimenez. Heyman hit Jimenez’s second pitch over the wall in right centerfield for his ninth home run of the season.
Ben Vicini (7-0), Washington’s second of four pitchers, threw one shutout inning for the win.