Five of six runs unearned as Fish rise back above .500 with third win in five 2019 games June 7
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — The Chillicothe Mudcats rose back above the .500 mark with a 6-3 triumph Friday (June 7, 2019) because they were greedier than their guests.
Both the Mudcats and visiting Jefferson City Renegades offered extra outs to each other on multiple occasions in their MINK League baseball clash at “Chuck” Haney Field in “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium. However, where the Renegades, in rather genteel manner, plucked a couple of runs with thumb and index finger, Chillicothe twice plunged both hands into the cookie jar and grabbed all they could.
The teams combined for eight errors – many of them bunched into a couple of half-innings each – with Chillicothe mining the Renegades’ mistakes for five unearned runs and Jefferson City netting only two undeserved markers. That difference was the difference as the Fish raised their early 2019 record to 3-2, both overall and in league play. Jefferson City slipped to 2-4 in both categories heading into the teams’ rematch at the same locale Saturday.
After Chillicothe starting pitcher Tyler Venditti (1-0) escaped a rocky opening frame with only two Renegades runs on the scoreboard, the visitors exhibited the largesse which would be ultimately costly.
Following Dom Trevino’s 1-out single to center field, a wild throw to first on Logan Eickhoff’s grounder to the second baseman sent the runners to third and second bases, respectively. Mudcats catcher and cleanup batter Nolan Metcalf then launched a high, deep drive to left field that banged off the wall for a double which inexplicably scored only one run. Eickhoff had chosen to tag up at second base and the ball’s quick recovery and return to the infield after it hit off the fence limited his advance to 90 feet.
That baserunning gaffe was soon succeeded by another by Metcalf, but Jefferson City’s physically-error-prone ways acquitted the home team of a penalty which should have sent it to the next inning trailing 2-1.
A tap back to Jeff City starting pitcher Connor McKenna was routinely fielded, offering the runner at third base no option for trying to score. However, Metcalf immediately headed from second to third as McKenna threw the batter out at first base. When the first baseman, after taking the throw, recognized Chillicothe had both of its baserunners at or near third base, he headed across the diamond with the ball.
Rather than wait for the inevitable, Eickhoff headed home, drawing a throw to the catcher once he got halfway there. Once that throw was made, Metcalf retreated toward second, but the Renegades kept their focus on the trapped lead runner. After chasing the runner back to within less than 20 feet of third base, the catcher flipped a throw toward the third baseman, but made it a bit low. The third baseman, in his rush to glove the throw as Eickhoff braked and started back toward home plate, took his eye off the ball, which hit off the end of his glove and rolled behind him into foul territory. Before he or the shortstop could get to it and make a throw, Eickhoff was reaching home plate, delivering the tying run, rather than becoming the third out.
That Jefferson City mistake grew into a 2-runs problem when Jack Grace followed with a long, opposite-field drive off the fence in deep right field, letting Metcalf saunter home from second base with the go-ahead run.
Better supported by their fielders, Venditti and McKenna sailed through the next 2-1/2 innings fairly easily. Then the Renegades misfired again – and again and again.
Kole Ficken’s grounder to third opening the Chillicothe fourth was kicked. After a strikeout, the Jeff City shortstop charging attempt to come up with Chet Merritt’s bouncer up the middle on a short hop, rather than angle more to his left to get a longer bounce, missed connections, resulting in Fish at the corners with one out when the visitors should have been headed to their dugout for the top of the fifth.
The blunders turned into big damage when, with Merritt on the move toward second, left fielder Brandan Settles (Battle Creek, Mich.) slashed a line drive down the left-field line for a double that scored two. The Chillicothe lead grew by another tally to 6-1 when McKenna, slipping and falling to a seated position as he followed a tap back toward him by speeding following batter Marcus Gonzales, ill-advisedly attempted to throw to first base anyway. Predictably, the peg was far off-target, sailing beyond first base into foul territory as Settles easily rounded third and scored the third unearned Mudcats run of the inning.
Chillicothe did not score again, but did not need to.
Venditti, despite anxious moments in the fifth and sixth, surrendered only a single run from those threats. He then turned the ball over to a pair of lefthanders with local/regional ties – Chase Wheeler of neighboring Carrollton and Garrett West of Atlanta (south of Kirksville), each of whom worked a scoreless frame in their debuts with the Fish. West got a huge helping hand from catcher Metcalf when, after allowing consecutive hits to begin the top of the eighth, the receiver picked the lead runner off at second. Even though the batter at the plate subsequently singled, as well, it still was only a first-and-second situation, one West wiggled out of with a pair of routine fly balls to outfielders.
West was given a chance to begin a second inning – the ninth, due to the presence of a lefthanded Renegades batter to open it. When that man lined a single to left field, Chillicothe head coach Caleb Bounds called on husky righthander Jack McNellis (Columbia, Mo.) to quell any comeback hopes of the visitors. The winning pitcher in last Monday’s walk-off win over Clarinda (Iowa), he did so, striking out two of the four batters he faced to earn his first Mudcats save.
The victory again allowed Chillicothe to end a day with a winning record, a status it never enjoyed a year ago.
Statistically, Chillicothe was out-hit 11-7 and its hurlers handed out five walks and two hit batters on top of the three errors (two of them wild throws involving men already on base). The pitchers’ saving grace was being tough when the chips were down, stranding a whopping 14 Renegades.
In contrast, Mudcats batters supplemented their seven hits with only one walk, but grouped six of their seven safeties into their 3-runs innings in the first and fourth. Chillicothe left only four men on base. No Fish had more than one hit.
Logan Haring had three hits to lead Jeff City and Trent Pobst doubled twice, scored twice, and drove in two runs.