A split-second reaction by Chillicothe Mudcats starting pitcher?Cole Isom nearly knocked him out and out of Sunday’s MINK?League home game against the Ozark Generals. Instead, he turned it into the pivotal play of a 7-1 victory in which he ended up with a complete game and his team-high third win of 2012.
Isom’s spinning, backhanded stab of first baseman Levi?Grassley’s hard throw as Isom covered first base on Tadd Wagner’s 2-out grounder in the fourth inning of a 2-1 game and Isom’s back-to-the-sack clipping of the bag with his left foot ahead of Wagner’s arrival before falling backwards to the dirt hard became the turning point in the Mudcats’ 13th victory of the season.
“He’s a flexible dude,” Jake Nelson, Mudcats assistant coach, said of Isom’s critical contortionist play. “He plays his position well. He fields his position well.
“That play over at first, that was something else. You don’t see that very much.”
After being stunned for a minute or so when the back of his head whiplashed against the dirt, Isom not only got up and walked off under his own power, but straightened up what had been an uneven pitching performance to that point.
Preventing the Generals from tying the game by making that season-highlight-reel play, Isom choked off Ozark on three more hits – one of those on the infield – and no runs the final five innings – after yielding five hits in the first three to go the route and improve to 3-1. The University of Evansville (Ind.) southpaw from?Hopkinsville, Ky., became the club’s first 3-game winner and lowered his earned run average below 3.00 to 2.93.
By winning Sunday, the Mudcats inched back over .500 overall this season at 13-12 and moved to 11-12 in league action. With the two teams tied for second place just ahead of them in the MINK?League’s North Division, the victory assured Chillicothe of climbing into third place in the division.
It turned out they passed the Clarinda A’s, who they were to face in a 2 p.m. game today in Iowa, when the A’s fell to Omaha Diamond Spirit, 2-1, Sunday.
The Mudcats remained 21⁄2 games behind division leader St.?Joseph, which spotted South Division leader Nevada a 3-0 lead, then roared back to win on the road, 10-4.
League standings appear in By The Numbers today and will become a regular fixture there now until the end of the regular season.
Chillicothe’s projected starting pitcher in this afternoon’s June 15 rainout make-up game is righthander Steve?Adkins (2-0), who could join Isom as a 3-game winner, but he might be held back to pitch on a full week’s rest in the opener of Tuesday’s home doubleheader with the division-leading Mustangs.
After spotting Ozark, which was going for a sweep of the 2-day, 3-game series to wrap up a northern road swing, a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning on 3-straight, 2-outs hits, the Mudcats more than once weaved some 2-outs magic of their own Sunday.
In the bottom of the third after the first two men had been retired, a dropped throw by the Generals first baseman on a routine play not only cost Ozark the out, but eventually the lead.
Two pitches after Taylor Johnson reached on the misplay, with the runner going, Ryan Busch lashed a single to center field. As Johnson headed to third, the center fielder had the ball bounce off his glove behind him and Mudcats head coach?Eric Peterson waved Johnson home. He scored without a tag and the game was knotted, 1-1, but only for an instant.
Busch had stayed at first base as the throw was cut off and relayed home on his hit, but that didn’t matter when Levi?Grassley from Cameron blasted an RBI double off the base of the fall in deep let-center field, 374 feet away from home plate. Busch scored easily and Chillicothe had the lead for keeps, 2-1.
Two-out thunder rolled again in the Mudcats’ fifth inning.
With none on and two down, Ozark starting and losing pitcher Jake Smith was touched for 3-straight singles by?Grassley, Tyler Duplantis – who finished the day a perfect 5-for-5 to spike his batting average from .250 before the game to .296 after, and recently-potent Mitch?Huckabay. The last of those plated Grassley from second for a 3-1 margin.
While Isom mowed down Ozark, Chillicothe got to two Generals relievers for consecutive 2-run innings in the seventh and eighth to ice it.
Leading off the seventh,?Busch got the third of his four hits, going the other way to slip a ball through the right side. Duplantis’ pop-fly single to right advanced him to second with one out, and Huckabay cranked a hit over the second baseman’s head to score Busch and move?Duplantis to third. A wild pitch then allowed Duplantis to dart home and make it 5-1,?Mudcats.
In the eighth, Chillicothe ripped five hits and scored twice more, denied an even-larger haul only by a double-play grounder in the midst of the onslaught.
Kevin?Barker and Johnson each picked up their first hits of the day in their fifth plate appearances, Johnson’s slicing double up the alley in left-center easily scoring the swift Barker from first. Another Busch hit sent Johnson to third, from where he scored as Grassley bounced into the double-dip.
Duplantis followed with his fifth hit and Huckabay, who batted under .100 the first couple of weeks, his third, but they were left aboard.
“I’ve seen a lot of positive changes with Mitch over the last week-and-a-half or two weeks with his mental approach at the plate, which is huge for a hitter,” commented Nelson.
“To see a young kid like Mitch make an adjustment like that and go from where he was at the beginning of the season to where he’s improved – and he’s just going to keep getting better, I love seeing that.”
In the ninth, with a 6-run margin and his pitch count still below 100, Isom was allowed the opportunity to notch the complete game and he did so nicely, one last time getting big help from his infield.
After a tap to first and a walk – Isom’s fourth, pinch-hitter Beau Phillips’ grounder was swiftly converted into the Mudcats’ fourth double play of the day. Chillicothe was back over .500 overall and was assured of again escaping the basement in the MINK?League North.
In addition to the four twin-killings behind him, Isom was aided by catcher Izaak Silva gunning down two would-be base stealers in three attempts.
“He has a hose,”?Nelson says of the strength of the recent arrival’s throwing arm. “It is unbelievable.”