GENEVA – Cougars center fielder Oliver Zapata made two throws to the plate on two consecutive balls hit his way Tuesday, with both seemingly beating the runner coming home.
But twice the runner was safe, and it proved to be the difference.
The Cougars were on the wrong end of two consecutive plays at the plate in the top of the sixth inning, the key moments in an 8-4 defeat in the opening game of a four-game series against the Peoria Chiefs at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
With the game tied, 4-4, in the top of the sixth inning, Cougars reliever Justin Amlung issued a one-out walk to Peoria left fielder Michael Swinson. Swinson stole second, and when designated hitter Jacob Wilson lined a single into center field, Swinson tried to come home and score.
Zapata’s throw beat the standing-up Swinson by a good distance. But Swinson delivered an accurate blow to the glove of Cougars catcher Willson Contreras, jarring the ball loose and sending it out of play.
Neither player was knocked down in the home-plate collision, but the tie-breaking run scored and Wilson advanced to third base.
At the next at-bat, first baseman Jordan Walton lifted a fly ball to Zapata, who once again made a throw to the plate. Wilson slid in just as Contreras applied the tag and was called safe by the home plate umpire, who then immediately ejected Contreras, believing the catcher was aggressively sticking out his foot as the runner went by.
Manager Mark Johnson came out for a lively argument, but when the dust settled, his catcher was out of the game and his team trailed, 6-4.
Peoria added two more runs in the top of the eighth on a Wilson sacrifice fly and a Walton RBI single to extend its lead to 8-4.
Though the sixth proved to be the game’s deciding frame, it wasn’t the first time the Cougars found themselves behind on the scoreboard Tuesday.
They trailed, 4-2, in the fifth inning before left fielder Rock Shoulders tied the game with a two-run single. And after the Chiefs took a 2-1 lead in the top of fourth, Contreras tied the game with a solo homer to center field – his fifth of the season – in the bottom of the inning.
“We were playing with them the whole time,” Shoulders said. “They just kind of kept going and we fell off a little there at the end.”
Amlung took the loss, his first of the season, though it was Ian Dickson who started for the Cougars. He lasted just four innings in his third start of the year, surrendering two runs on five hits and striking out four.
Cougars (RHP Tayler Scott) vs. Peoria (RHP Joe Cuda), 11 a.m. today
Tuesday’s crowd of 4,889 pushed the Cougars’ season total to 79,187 fans in 19 home games. Kane County attracted 75,708 through 19 games last season.
It was a scary moment in the Cougars’ dugout in the top of the fifth. Peoria batter Ildemaro Vargas swung at a pitch, and his bat helicoptered into the home dugout. Infielder Marco Hernandez ended up on the ground from his original position on the top step of the dugout, although it appeared to be only an evasive maneuver and he returned to his spot shortly thereafter.
Cubs brass will be excited because
Though he was later ejected, Cougars catcher Willson Contreras smacked a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning. The long ball was his fifth of the season in his 24th game with Kane County. It was also his 16th RBI of the year, which ranks him third on the team.
Cubs brass will cringe because
The Cougars committed three errors in the field Tuesday, pushing their season total to 48 in 35 games. Shortstop David Bote couldn’t handle a flip from second baseman Gioskar Amaya in the top of the third, picking up his third error in just his third game with Kane County. And first baseman Dan Vogelbach couldn’t field a ground ball at first base in the fourth inning, earning his seventh error of the year.
The Cougars had trouble finishing off innings Tuesday. Peoria scored five of its eight runs – including the first four – with two outs. Kane County pitching gave up 12 hits on the day, compared to seven from the Cougars’ bats, and the team is now 4-12 when outhit.