GENEVA – Cougars manager Mark Johnson finds no fault with Peoria Charter buses, the transportation his club used on its recently completed road trip to Fort Wayne and Lake County (Ohio).
He maintains that the vessels are not luxurious by definition, though, regardless of what might be painted on the side.
“A bus is a bus, no matter how nice it is. It’s still difficult to get quality rest, but you try to get what you can and deal with it,” Johnson said. “It’s part of the minor leagues.”
On Wednesday, the Cougars hinted that bus lag might just be overrated. After arriving home around 5 a.m. from an overnight drive from suburban Cleveland, Kane County defeated one of the Midwest League’s top teams, Bowling Green, 5-4, in 10 innings.
Dan Vogelbach smacked a game-ending single in the 10th after Bowling Green (18-7) rallied for three runs in the ninth to tie the game against Jeff Antigua.
Right-hander Pierce Johnson was in line for the win before those woes. He limited the Hot Rods to four hits and one run over 62/3 innings in his strongest and deepest of five starts this season.
In a meeting of first-round arms, Johnson (Cubs, 2012) opposed Bowling Green lefty Blake Snell (Rays, 2011). Snell was unable to pitch out of the fourth inning, as the Cougars capitalized on a run-scoring error in the first and RBIs from Vogelbach and Jeimer Candelario in the third.
The Cougars (10-13) climbed closer to .500 overall and in games played against the MWL’s Eastern Division. The club lost two of three to both Fort Wayne and Lake County despite a power surge that featured five home runs during the Lake County series, including three from Vogelbach.
With interdivision play limited to one series between teams a season, Cougars players hope they don’t encounter Bowling Green on a trip to Kentucky in 2014. That would mean they have not ascended to another organizational rung, the ultimate goal.
“This league’s different. The last two series, we don’t see those guys ever again,” Johnson said. “You don’t have anything to go off of and you don’t have any scouting report. You can’t keep a book on them or anything like that. You just roll with it, you know.”
As usual, Wednesday’s crowd featured its share of fans clad in Cubs paraphernalia, although the person with arguably the deepest Cubs ties wore red.
First-year Hot Rods manager Jared Sandberg, 35, is the nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, a former longtime Cubs second baseman.
“I mean, the Sandberg name is big around Chicago,” Jared Sandberg said. “It wasn’t my doing, though, that was Ryno.”
Ryne Sandberg managed in the MWL with Peoria from 2007 to 2008. He is now the third base coach and infield instructor for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Up next: Cougars (RHP Tayler Scott, 1-1, 4.05 ERA) vs. Bowling Green (RHP Dylan Floro, 2-0, 1.35 ERA), 11 a.m. today, AM-1280
Turnstile report: Wednesday's's crowd of 4,089 pushed the Cougars' season total to 43,413 fans in 13 games. Kane County attracted 49,602 fans over the same span last season. Sight seen: Northern Illinois tight end Tim Semisch sharing his nachos with offensive lineman Pat Husain and a few other teammates. Semisch said the NIU group was with Huskies backup quarterback Matt Williams – a Geneva alumnus – and his family. Cubs brass will be excited because: Left fielder Pin-Chieh Chen made a twisting catch of a long Patrick Leonard fly ball against the warning track in left field to end the second inning. Cue the sound byte from "A Few Good Men": "You want me on that wall. You need me on that wall."
Cubs brass will cringe because: The bullpen of late has been looking like the beleaguered product on Chicago’s North Side. Pierce Johnson left with the lead with two outs in the sixth.
The closer: What might have been an efficient, snappy win was put in peril by struggles from the relief corps. Dan Vogelbach’s 10th-inning heroics still gave the club the result it wanted.