Special to the Herald
The Clinton Herald
---- — PEORIA, Ill. — Happy days are here again for the Clinton LumberKings. At least for one day.
The LumberKings got a much-needed 3-2 win over Peoria to stem the tide in the Midwest League baseball playoff chase. With the victory Wednesday, Clinton snapped a seven-game losing streak and pushed its lead in the Western Division wild-card race to two games over Wisconsin after the Timber Rattlers lost.
Dylan Unsworth made his return to the LumberKings’ rotation after an elbow injury sidelined the starter for much of the season. After a rehab stint with the Seattle Mariners’ team in the Arizona League, Unsworth made his first start with Clinton since June 5.
In an abbreviated outing, Unsworth pitched four strong innings. The only run came after an error by Martin Peguero sparked the Chiefs’ first inning. C.J. McElroy reached on a fielding mistake to lead off the inning, and Nick Martini followed with an RBI double. The LumberKings starter finished with one unearned run allowed on four hits.
Clinton jumped in front with a three-run second inning. Zach Shank, Brock Hebert and Marcus Littlewood strung together three consecutive RBI singles, all with two outs.
The LumberKings failed to add any more offense, but the lead held up as the bullpen submitted a strong performance. Oliver Garcia pitched three innings, allowing one unearned run on one hit and two walks.
The run came in the seventh inning as a dropped fly ball in center field by Alfredo Morales spurred the Chiefs rally. Gerwuins Velazco made it 3-2 on a sacrifice fly, but Garcia worked out of the inning without any further damage.
Richard Vargas walked a tightrope in the eighth inning, but eventually he finished off the Clinton victory.
The LumberKings and Chiefs square off in the rubber match of the three-game series at 6:30 tonight at Dozer Park.
The Chiefs threatened with a pair of singles, getting the tying run to third and the go-ahead run on second. Vargas induced a groundout to short to escape the jam.
Garcia earned the victory, his seventh of the season, while Vargas earned his third save of the year. Mike Mayers fell to 0-3 in five starts with Peoria.
The victory strengthened the LumberKings’ position in the playoff race. With Wisconsin losing 6-4 to Quad Cities, Clinton widened its lead for the wild-card spot to two games. The LumberKings could clinch the final playoff berth today with a win and a Wisconsin loss.
The LumberKings and Chiefs square off in the rubber match of the three-game series at 6:30 tonight at Dozer Park. Clinton turns to right-hander Rigoberto Garcia (1-5, 5.64 ERA) in the finale against Peoria southpaw Kyle Helisek (7-6, 3.16).