In a game extremely-critical to its flickering MINK League playoffs hopes, Chillicothe used pair of eighth-inning runs to best Clarinda (Iowa) A's 4-2 at Trenton
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
TRENTON, Mo. — A change of scenery might not have been the sole reason, but it didn’t hurt the floundering Chillicothe Mudcats college-level, wood-bat baseball team Tuesday (July 10).
One night after perhaps their most-lifeless performance of an off-key 2018 season, the Fish produced one of their zippiest performances on a sizzling-hot evening and a field a handful of Mudcats previously have called home.
Switch-hitting catcher Jared Fry continued, with a nod to the legendary Stevie Wonder, his hotter-than-July hitting on his former home field, breaking a 2-2, eighth-inning tie with an opposite-field single that propelled the Mudcats to a critical 4-2 MINK League victory over the Clarinda (Iowa) A’s.
With the Fish playing their now-traditional annual game at Trenton’s Burleigh Grimes Field, Lawrence, Kan., resident Fry’s home field the past two years as a student-athlete at North Central Missouri College, the Chillicothe receiver’s third single of the game brought home pinch-runner Peyton Cormane from third base to give the Mudcats back the lead they’d held from the second through the seventh innings.
A dropped, routine fly ball to short center field then added a welcomed insurance run before the eighth ended.
Righthander Hayden House then came back from falling behind Clarinda’s leadoff batter in the ninth to work a 1-2-3 inning and earn his second save of the season. The hyper-critical victory went to first reliever Nate Gawelko (2-0), whose only blemish in three innings of work had been Sean Bergeron’s game-tying home run over the left-center field fence with two outs in the top of the seventh.
Tuesday’s victory over one of the two teams Chillicothe is trying to chase down for a MINK League North Division playoffs berth doubly-aided its cause, since the other – St. Joseph – also continued to struggle with a loss.
While the Mudcats improved to a still-lowly 11-21 in the league and 13-22 overall, St. Joseph slipped to 16-17 (through Tuesday) in the loop and Clarinda to 16-15. Chillicothe still stood 4-1/2 games behind St. Joseph, who it plays twice more, and 5-1/2 games back of the Iowans, who it will tangle with four more times in the season’s last two weeks.
The Mudcats have the next two nights off before hosting South Division member Jefferson City back at Chillicothe on Friday. Clarinda will be in Chillicothe Saturday night.
After Cole Taylor pounded a double to deepest right-center field with one out in the home half of the eighth Tuesday, pinch-runner Cormane stole his 30th base of the season in 32 attempts to put the go-ahead run at third with one out. After an intentional walk was issued to Nick Ray, on the first delivery to Fry, Ray stole second base without a throw.
On a 2-2 pitch, having missed on swings at two high fastballs from reliever Brandon Andrews, Fry found a heater closer to the belt and spanked it cleanly into left field to snap the tie and earn his second run batted in of the night.
The hit not only was his third of the game, but also his 12th in 21 July at-bats, a scorching .571 clip that matches the current weather. Since June departed, Fry has raised his season batting average from .188 to a team-leading .340. He’s on a 7-games hitting streak that dates back to his final June game.
The two RBI give him 15 now, fourth-most on the team, and he easily has the best ratio of runs driven in (15) to official at-bats (53) on the club. Adding in 15 bases on balls to his 18 hits on the year, Fry also leads the Mudcats in on-base percentage at .485.
Chillicothe never trailed in the game, which marked the sixth year in a row the Chillicothe-based club has given a nod to its fan and sponsor support at Trenton by playing a “home” game there.
It capitalized on a Clarinda error to score twice in the second inning.
As he would do again in the decisive eighth, Taylor lit the fuse by getting aboard with one out – this time as a hit batter. He’d go on to have a perfect night at the dish, going three for three.
The University of Central Missouri corner infielder aggressively went first to third on Ray’s soft single to right-center, allowing him to score easily when, with Ray running on the pitch, Fry perfectly pushed a ground-ball single through the vacated second baseman’s position and into right field.
With Ray now at third and Fry, not a serious basestealing threat, at first, Clarinda starting lefthander Jackson Tavel inexplicably decided to flip a soft pickoff toss to first. The throw short-hopped the first baseman and squirted about 10-15 feet up the first-base line toward the outfield, allowing Ray to easily dash home with the second Chillicothe run of the inning. Had it not been for the needless throw to first, Tavel would have escaped the inning behind only 1-0, rather than 2-0.
That score held until the top of the fifth inning when McClanahan allowed a leadoff single and 2-outs single that put the A’s on the scoreboard.
Gawelko came on to start the sixth inning and, after a wild spell of 10 pitches in a row missing the strike zone, got through the frame unscathed. However, a high fastball to Bergeron with two outs and none on in the seventh disappeared over the fence in left-center about 370 feet from home plate, eliminating McClanahan’s chance to get the pitching win.
Statistically, each side stroked 10 hits in the contest, but only two – Taylor’s rally-starting 2-bagger and Bergeron’s tying roundtripper – of the 20 were for extra-bases, despite Grimes Field’s far-cozier dimensions than what the Mudcats have for games at their normal “June” Shaffer Memorial Park stadium “digs.”
Clarinda, in particular, seemed overly anxious to try to exploit the shorter distances to the fences against soft-tossing lefthanded Chillicothe starting pitcher Noah McClanahan. A’s righthander batters were consistently out on their front foot and rolling over on the southpaw’s off-speed offerings. McClanahan also effectively exploited the generous outside corner of the plate awarded consistently all night by the plate umpire, painting it repeatedly with his fastball, while using his breaking balls to throw off Clarinda’s timing on inner-half pitches. The St. Joseph-area resident more than fulfilled head coach Caleb Bounds’ goals for him in making only his second start, working five innings and surrendering only an unearned run, despite eight A’s hits.
Gawelko was a bit hit-and-miss in his three innings, but was damaged only by Bergeron’s “big fly.” It was the Clarinda first baseman’s sixth home run of the season.
Offensively, Fry and Taylor shouldered most of the hitting load, but Ray helped out with a hit that contributed to the team’s 2-runs second inning and his walk in the eighth. He scored twice.
While he never swung a bat, Cormane’s speed and daring as a pinch-runner in the eighth was a key component of the winning rally.
With his swipe of third, he became only the fourth Mudcat ever to steal 30 bases in a season, joining all-time single-season record-holder (50) Darian Sandford (2009), the late Steve Martin (31 in 2003), and Chris Krogmeier (30 in 2006).
Defensively, Chillicothe not only played errorlessly – the A’s had four miscues, a couple of them huge, but also was unusually sharp with its glove work on the left side of the infield. Third baseman Taylor made several nice fielding plays and accurate throws early and shortstop Nico Burgarello handled a couple of tough chances on scalded shots at or near him, as well as a pop fly into shallow center field.
Tuesday’s game had a couple of odd moments on top of some nostalgia.
Three pitches into the bottom half of the first inning, Clarinda starting pitcher Tavel requested time out from the home plate umpire in order to orally divest himself on the mound of some food or drink he had ingested prior to the contest. After a brief break and a drink of water to rinse out his mouth, he returned to action and fired strike three past Chillicothe leadoff batter Derek Hussey.
Opening the Chillicothe half of the fourth, the lefthanded-swinging Taylor hit a sinking pitch into the dirt around his feet. As it bounced high into the air and toward the pitcher’s mound, the Mudcat – the momentum of his swing taking him that way – began running at about half to three-quarters speed toward first base, apparently either expecting the plate umpire to call the ball foul for hitting the batter inside the batter’s box or thinking Tavel would flip the ball to first after gloving it well before Taylor could arrive.
However, perhaps reading Taylor’s reduced running pace as an indication the ball was going to be called foul or – having perhaps the best vantage point on the diamond, having seen it hit the batter’s foot, the Clarinda pitcher simply held onto the ball while Taylor jogged all the way to first base and touched it.
What no one on the field apparently realized was that the plate umpire, his vision of what happened when the ball went downward off the bat partially blocked by either the catcher or Taylor or both, had not clearly seen contact between the ball and Taylor. Given that, using proper umpiring “mechanics” (technique) said nothing, but pointed with his hand toward fair territory as the ball bounced high toward the pitcher, indicating the play was live and the ball fair (in such cases, umpires are to vocalize only if they are ruling a ball foul; if fair, they stay silent, but indicate with gestures that the ball is live and in play). Thus, when the ball was held by the pitcher and Taylor touched first base, the play technically registered as a basehit.
The oddness only intensified from there, however.
Having run “through” first base and a few strides on down the baseline, as allowable, Taylor turned and walked back to the base – and, with no admonition from assistant coach Shane Herschelman, coaching first, to stay on the base until the situation was clarified, kept right on walking back in the general direction of both home plate and the Chillicothe dugout on the third-base side of the field. By that time, Ray, the next scheduled batter, had walked up to the home plate area, where the plate umpire still was standing just in fair territory, presumably wondering why Taylor was headed their way.
After Taylor got about back within about 30 feet of home plate, Clarinda coaches or players in the dugout sized up the situation and realized there had not been a foul ball called and that Taylor technically had reached first base safely. Alerting Tavel verbally, they had him throw the ball to the first baseman at the bag, appealing that the Mudcat had “vacated” his right to the base by walking far from it toward the dugout. As they did so, with Taylor now stopped in confusion and watching from the infield grass, the field umpire accepted the appeal and signaled the Chillicothe player now was out. Just for insurance, when the first baseman tossed the ball back to the pitcher, Tavel walked over and tagged the still-bewildered Taylor, who never did react – by way of verbal assertion to the plate umpire – that suggested the batted ball had hit him in the first place.
Mudcats head coach Bounds came in to get a clarification from the plate umpire on what had transpired, surprisingly either not requesting the plate umpire consult with the field umpire on whether or not the second umpire had seen the ball hit Taylor or having a request for such a conference – a routine occurrence on that type of play – denied out of hand.
When all was said and done, Taylor technically had the first of his three hits of the game, but also was the inning’s first out.
Tuesday’s game at Trenton and Burleigh Grimes Field was a trip down “memory lane” – for some a very fresh memory and for others a slightly-more-distant one – for multiple Mudcats.
The two hometown members of the Fish – Derek Hussey and Tristen Sewell – have played on the diamond both as members of a “home” team – in American Legion baseball when they were members of the Trenton Bluejays a couple of summers back, with the North Central Missouri College Pirates, who call the field home, and now with the Mudcats – and also as a visiting team members when they were on the Chillicothe Cardinals Legion team. Sewell also competed at the Trenton field with the Chillicothe High School Hornets in spring 2017.
Beyond those two, four other 2018 Mudcats players – Connor Quick, Trae Brownell, Evan Glaze, and Fry – were NCMC players the past year or two.
Finally, head coach Caleb Bounds played his first two years of college-level ball there with NCMC’s Pirates, in addition to being with the Mudcats as a player for their 2014-16 games at Burleigh Grimes.
In fact, Bounds, a Savannah, Mo., product, first joined the Mudcats on a fill-in basis just before the 2014 game at Trenton, when the club was a bit shorthanded for pitchers early in its season.
Hooked up with the Fish by his then-NCMC coach Donnie Hillerman, Bounds made his first appearance and start with Chillicothe in the first game of a June 9, 2014, twinbill at the Trenton field, earning the first of his now-team-record 13 Mudcats career pitching wins in a 10-1, 7-innings triumph. With that impressive debut, Bounds was invited to stay with the team for the remainder of the season and ended up winning four games each of the next three seasons, even after matriculating from NCMC to William Woods College in Fulton, Mo.
This summer, after a year as an assistant coach at Columbia (Mo.) College, he is the first former Mudcats player to serve as the team’s head coach. Last week, he supplemented that role by, with his club again short of pitchers – as it was when he first joined them four years earlier, he returned to playing status for one game and pitched six shutout innings in a non-league game to gain his 13th win in his Mudcats career.
His adoption of a temporary role as a player-coach was not unprecedented in Mudcats annals. At least three of the nine previous head coaches – Keith Vorhoff, “Jud” Kindle, and Adam Steyer – also inserted themselves into the lineup on one or two occasions, Vorhoff and Kindle as pitchers and Steyer as catcher.