By Shannon Heaton
For the Herald
CLINTON — As a starting pitcher for the Clinton LumberKings, Walter Suriel hasn’t been able to catch a break.
Neither, for the moment, are his teammates, who couldn’t use a three-hour rain delay to recharge their bats against the Beloit Snappers on Wednesday night at Alliant Energy Field, falling 5-2 in a game that ended just moments before midnight.
The loss sent Clinton (18-13) to its third consecutive loss heading into tonight’s 6:30 contest. LumberKing ace Brett Lorin (3-0, 1.00 ERA) takes the mound as Clinton will look to avoid tying its season-longest losing streak (four games) against the Snappers (13-18).
“We just have to put our heads together,” Clinton right fielder Denny Almonte said of the team’s current cold snap. “We put our heads together, we’re a pretty good club.”
Good enough for four-plus innings that it appeared that Suriel (0-3, 5.00 ERA entering Wednesday’s game) might break into the win column for the first time. With threatening skies and storms literally on the doorstep at Alliant Energy Field, his pitching had helped give the LumberKings a 2-1 lead over the Beloit Snappers going into the top of the fifth inning.
But, with runners at first and second, two outs, and two strikes on Beloit cleanup hitter Ozzie Lewis, the inexplicable happened to snatch Suriel’s and Clinton’s nearly-certain victory away. Lewis lofted a high fly ball to center field. Maximo Mendez drew a bead on it at first, but then seemed to lose the ball in the lights and it wound up dropping just a few feet in front of him.
With Beloit runners James Beresford and Nicholas Romero running on contact, both were able to score easily while the ball came back into the infield, giving Beloit a 3-2 lead.
“He said he just lost it,” Clinton manager Scott Steinmann said of Mendez’s mishap. “Almonte wasn’t close enough to get over there and recover it, and by the time we get it back in, two runs had scored. But that wasn’t the thing that blew the game for us. We had plenty of chances to score runs. We didn’t swing the bat well enough to get a W.”
After Clinton’s turn at bat in the bottom of the fifth went 1-2-3, the storms came and the rain delay began. Both teams retreated to the clubhouses at approximately 7:50 p.m. and the wait began.
“The guys want to come back,” Almonte said. “We were in a situation where we didn’t want to end up losing like that (via a fluke play). If we were up, we wouldn’t mind (waiting). We just relaxed, talked about a game plan.”
Steinmann said: “We always assume we’re going to go back out and play. If you don’t, you start thinking about what you’ll eat, or what you might do later on, and your mind gets off the game. You want to be focused. The guys watched a little (baseball) on TV, maybe see some of the guys they know from back home ... play some cards, eat a little bit of food.”
The field was ready for play about 45 minutes after the rains broke at around 10 p.m. Though Clinton got a second chance, the ‘Kings were only able to generate two singles and a walk after the delay.
Beloit pitchers were extremely economical throughout the night, allowing only six hits and throwing just 101 pitches in the game, 67 of those for strikes. Bobby Lanigan got the victory after allowing just four hits and a walk through five innings. Brock Pugh and Matt Williams finished with four innings of scoreless relief, with Williams going two to collect a save.
Still in the zone
Almonte hit his team-leading eighth home run in the third inning, a solo shot that at the time gave the LumberKings a 2-1 lead. Between that and an RBI groundout in the first that plated Mendez — who hit his Midwest League-leading sixth triple — Almonte drove in both Clinton runs.
“I’m just trying to get a better approach at the plate, just trying to put the ball in play,” Almonte said of the homer, which put him second alone in the MWL with 23 RBIs on the season. “I’ve got power and speed (at the plate). I’m just trying to let things happen by themselves.”
An injury has forced Travis Howell to the disabled list for Clinton.
Another catcher, Blake Ochoa, was promoted to Clinton from extended spring training to replace Howell on the roster.
Ochoa played in 63 games for Wisconsin last season, batting .251 with three home runs and 23 RBIs.
Ochoa, in his fifth year of professional baseball, was acquired by Seattle in a 2007 trade with Florida. A Venezuelan, Ochoa was signed as a free agent by the Marlins in 2004.
Reliever Ryan Moorer was set to replace Suriel in the top of the sixth inning, even taking the mound to warm up before umpires Keith Rogowski and Shaylor Smith waved the teams into their clubhouses. “He just got cold. He was ready to go,” Steinmann said of Moorer, who had to give way to Chris Kirkland, who wound up finishing the game. ... The staffers were able to get the tarp on the field in just 1 minute and 40 seconds.
By Shannon Heaton