SAUGET, Ill. – With the Frontier League regular season entering its final two weeks, Sunday’s series rubber match between the Schaumburg Boomers and the Gateway Grizzlies was a pivotal one.
One bad call in the third caused the Grizzlies to lose their composure and the Boomers cruised to a dominating 18-7 victory at GCS Ballpark to win the series.
“It was very important for us,” said Boomers manager Jamie Bennett, whose team set a franchise record with seven homers in the win and had an eighth that didn’t count. “It’s a momentum booster. We’ve struggled to play here. Gateway always has a good club and it’s a tough place to play.”
In addition to a home run that didn’t count, but did score two runs, the game had several other oddities – four ejections, five errors, 28 hits, eight pitchers and numerous questionable calls by the umpires during a contest that last three hours and 25 minutes.
“The coaches talked about it after the game and, you think you’ve seen it all, but there were a lot of weird things,” Bennett said. “It was a crazy night.”
Schaumburg shortstop Gerard Hall went yard three times to tie a league record and third baseman Joe De Pinto left the park twice in the rout.
“We were hitting the ball well and taking good swings,” said Hall, who entered the game with one home run in 169 at-bats. “Early in the game, it was a little iffy with the umpires, but we put it behind us.
“I’ve never been part of a game that was so strange. It was a very unique game, for sure.”
Both teams are in contention for a playoff berth, but both are trailing the River City Rascals (50-31) in the West Division. The Grizzlies (46-35) are falling off the pace in the West. After leading the division and owning the league’s best record for much of the season, Gateway has slumped since the all-star break. The Grizzlies are 13-17 during that period and have been passed by Schaumburg (48-33), which was 4.5 games back of Gateway at the break.
Grizzlies pitcher Tyler Thompson (3-3) struggled early with a pair of walks in the first inning, and he almost hit De Pinto before getting him to fly out. Thompson then struck out the final two Schaumburg batters to get out of the inning unscathed.
He added three more strikeouts in the second, but a solo homer to deep right center from Hall gave the Boomers a 1-0 lead. Hall was 4-for-5 with a double to go with his three homers and also reached on an error.
“My hitting coach (C.J. Thieleke) and I had a talk and he told me to just slow things down, get my foot down early and hit helped,” said Hall, whose double off the left field wall was nearly his fourth homer of the game. “The most important thing is we won the game. We’re in a playoff race with a lot of teams.”
Boomers pitcher Charle Rosario won his first decision of the season in his fourth start. He missed 60 games this year after getting struck by a line drive while in the dugout. The former Red Sox prospect who spent six years with the organization, reaching Double-A in 2011 and 2012, gave up five earned runs over six innings on Sunday.
The Grizzlies tied the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the second when catcher Josh Adams knocked in Landon Hernandez with a two-out single to right. Adams went 4-for-4 and was a home run shy of the cycle.
The Boomers retook the lead on a two-run triple by Mark Nelson, but not without controversy.
Tony Delmonico struck out a batter earlier and Adams quickly threw down to first bases to pick off Justin Vasquez. Grizzlies first baseman Ben Waldrip caught the ball right at the bag and blocked Vasquez’s dive back to the base. But field umpire Ron Arnsperger, who was on the opposite side of second base, called Vasquez safe. Grizzlies manager Phil Warren immediately jumped from the dugout to argue the call and asked for an appeal from home plate umpire TJ Cunningham. Arnsperger and Cunningham got together, but did not change the call. Warren continued to state his case to Arnsperger before he was ejected, threw his cap down and kicked it before walking to the clubhouse to an ovation of cheers from the 1,739 fans at GCS Ballpark. Warren did not make himself available to comment following the game. It was his first ejection of the season.
Both of the runs scored on Nelson’s triple were unearned because Vasquez and De Pinto each reached on throwing errors. Hall added his second solo shot to lead off the fourth inning to give the Boomers a 4-1 advantage.
“Gerard is making adjustments,” Bennett said of the former Kansas City Royals draft pick who began the year in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, but was on the disabled list prior to his release. “We knew it’d take him a little while to get in the groove. He’s stayed relaxed, slowed the game down and is hitting the ball to the backside.”
Arnsperger ejected another Grizzlie in the fourth when, between pitches to De Pinto, he turned to Michael Johnson at second and immediately ejected him. Once the defensive replacements were made, De Pinto launched a two-run homer to left. That brought Grizzlies pitching coach Randy Martz out from the dugout and he called for Brett Mabry from the bullpen. On his way out, Thompson, who struck out 10 in 3 2/3 innings, said something to Cunningham, who ejected Thompson.
The Grizzlies got one run back in the bottom of the fourth after Madison Beaird led off with a double and then scored following Michael Wing’s single to left. Beaird was held at third, but scored when Wing got caught in a rundown between first and second.
Waldrip struck out looking to end the inning and threw his helmet over the plate in disagreement. He was immediately ejected by Cunningham. Both umpires then exchanged words with a shouting Waldrip as he walked off the field.
The Boomers blew the game open in the fifth. Catcher Michael Valadez blasted a three-run homer to left after Hall had reached on a Wing error. Alexi Colon later hit a two-out single and scored on De Pinto’s second homer of the night.
“I wish we could do it more often, but we’re really not that kind of club,” Bennett said of the power surge. “It was just one of those nights. It was a crazy game and odd things happened, but it was nice to get that kind of boost.”
The Grizzlies did cut into the lead in the bottom of the sixth on a two-run shot to right center from Wing that also scored Beaird.
Gateway added another run in the seventh with an RBI double from Hernandez to score Kale Kiser. The Boomers got that run back in the eighth on an RBI single from Tony Delmonico to bring in Justin Vasquez, who doubled to lead off the inning. Delmonico later scored on an infield single by Valadez.
The Boomers hit two more homers in the eighth, but only one was official because Vasquez passed De Pinto, who waited to see if the ball would be caught by Beaird. Vasquez was called out and was given credit for a two-run single instead of a three-run homer. Delmonico followed with a solo homer to left-center.
Both teams are off on Monday before hitting the road. The Boomers head to Normal for a three-game set against the CornBelters while the Grizzlies begin a six-game road trip at Lake Erie and Washington.
“Hopefully we can get another series win,” Bennett said. “It’d be nice.”
For the Grizzlies, who a month ago seemed like a lock to make the postseason, six games against the Crushers and Wild Things – both also in playoff contention – will be telling and could decide Gateway’s postseason fate.