CLINTON – A handful of hours after his manager suggested the team's second-half turnaround was rooted in correcting the "little things," JD Osborne did a big thing.
Osborne broke a scoreless tie with a three-run homer in the third inning to support Remey Reed's solid performance on the mound, hoisting the Clinton LumberKings to a 7-1 win over Burlington Wednesday night at NelsonCorp Field.
The win marked the fifth consecutive victory for the LumberKings, who have embarked on seven streaks of three wins or more since June 20, including three stretches of five games or more.
Osborne broke his bat on the first pitch of his pivotal plate appearance. Apparently, the Canada native likes its replacement, blasting a pitch well over the left-field fence on his first swing with the new lumber to score Thomas Jones and Peyton Burdick.
"With guys on first and second, I wasn't trying to get too big but I put a good swing on it and it ended up going," Osborne said.
Clinton improved to 31-20 and pulled within three games of first-place Kane County in the Midwest League West. The LumberKings, however, hold a two-game lead over Cedar Rapids in the wild card race after the Kernels fell to Wisconsin Wednesday.
Over three hours before first pitch, Clinton manager Mike Jacobs said the team discussed polishing its fundamentals after a subpar first-half record of 33-36 failed to yield a playoff spot.
"Going into the second half, we stressed to the guys that we are going to need to do a lot of little things better than what we were doing – running bases, taking care of the ball, things like that – and that is exactly what they have been doing," Jacobs said. "It has been a fun half."
Osborne has quietly been a consistent offensive weapon this season for the LumberKings, hitting .277 with eight homers. The 24-year-old primarily serves as the backup catcher to 2018 second-round draft pick Will Banfield, but Jacobs has thrust Osborne into the middle of the order as the designated hitter more frequently during the current playoff push.
He has been red-hot of late, too, hitting 14-for-30 (.467) with five multi-hit games at the plate this month.
"I've just been slowing things down," Osborne said. "You get to the point of the year in August when everyone's body starts to hurt and it's a grind for the last couple weeks but it's just about simplifying and staying in your own approach and strengths."
Reed threw five strong innings to secure the win on the mound. He only allowed one run on four hits and fanned four batters.
Clinton poured it on in the sixth, sending nine batters to the plate to score three runs and extend its lead to 7-1. After Kameron Misner walked and Osborne slapped a single to right, Will Banfield reached on an error to score Misner. Bubba Hollins followed with a two-run double that slithered into the left-field corner.
Manuel Rodriguez tossed a spotless inning in relief of Reed, Nathan Alexander worked two clean frames and Zach Wolf recorded the last three outs of the game.
Thomas Jones hit a run-scoring single in the third. He has five hits in the last two games.
Burlington starter Hector Yan suffered the loss and was charged with four earned runs. Dylan King yielded three more runs in relief of the southpaw.
The LumberKings (31-20) and Burlington (18-33) will play the second of a three-game set at 6:35 p.m. Thursday night at NelsonCorp Field. Josh Roberson (1-3, 2.55 ERA) will take the ball for Clinton while Robinson Pina (4-7, 4.25) is slated to start for the Bees.