GENEVA – The Cougars’ “Halfway to Halloween” promotion came with costumes, spooky festivities and all-too-accurate weather.
Friday night’s affair at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark was a cold one, and that meant offense was in short supply. Usually cold nights benefitting pitchers is a conversation topic for early April rather than mid-May, but it sure did apply as the Cougars won a low-scoring game, 4-2, against the Quad Cities River Bandits.
And while busting out the winter coats to head to the ballpark might have been a nuisance for fans in attendance, Cougars starting pitcher Paul Blackburn is getting used to this spring’s ongoing chills.
“This is probably one of my warmer starts on the year. I haven’t been in a warm outing yet. I’m getting kind of used to it,” Blackburn said. “When it’s cold like this, hitters don’t really want to hit. More advantage to me.”
Be it because of the temperatures Friday or not, Blackburn certainly had an advantage. He tossed six innings and allowed just one run on two hits, one of which was a bunt single. All but one of Blackburn’s innings went 1-2-3.
It was Blackburn’s fourth win of the season, as he set a new season high with eight strikeouts and matched a season high with six innings pitched. He lowered his ERA to 2.76.
“A really good start,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “He set the tone with his tempo, and he absolutely just pounded the zone with strikes and got ahead of guys and put them away. He had his breaking ball working today, and that’s the key to having a good start like that is just really setting that good tempo.”
“I’m just trying to go out there and set a tempo, good for our team,” Blackburn said. “The last couple games we haven’t had good tempo, really. We’ve been kind of lackadaisical out there. That’s all I tried to do was go out there and have a good, quick first inning.”
Blackburn and River Bandits starter Chris Lee dueled throughout much of the game, proving that cold nights are better for the pitchers than the hitters. The sparing offense was familiar for a Cougars team that’s struggled to score runs in any temperature of late, accounting for just five runs over their last five games (1-4) entering Friday night. But four runs was all it took to snap their four-game losing streak.
The Cougars (27-14) matched their run total over the past three games in one inning, putting together a two-out rally in the bottom of the fifth. Trey Martin walked and came around to score on Daniel Lockhart’s double. That tied the game at 1 ahead of back-to-back errors by Quad Cities infielders that gave the Cougars the lead. Ben Carhart drove in a run with a bloop single that made it a 3-1 ballgame.
“That was a huge hit by Lockhart, and that’s what we needed. We needed to catch a break,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s, offensively, really pressing, trying to do too much and get three hits in one at-bat, that type of thing. And it’s not just one or two guys, it was kind of the whole lineup wanting to do so much. You can’t play the game that way, it’s already hard enough as it is.”
The Cougars added their fourth run in the bottom of the seventh on a Carlos Penalver RBI double into the left-center field gap.
Quad Cities (19-21) scored its first run on a fourth-inning sacrifice fly and got another on an RBI single in the top of the seventh.
The four runs marked the most the Cougars have scored in a game since their 5-2 win May 9 at Burlington.
“It’s cold, and when you go out there and score those runs, it is nice. And when you’re on the other side, it’s tough to battle back on a day like this,” Johnson said. “It was nice to get those four.”
Cougars (RHP Tyler Skulina, 1-1, 3.86 ERA) vs. Quad Cities (Andrew Thurman, 2-2, 4.97 ERA), 6:30 p.m. today, AM-1280
Trick or treat
The Cougars hosted the first of two “Halfway to Halloween” nights at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark on Friday, complete with a set of festive uniforms.
Jerseys were black and featured yellow skeletons, with not just a rib cage on the front and back but a humerus down each sleeve. The Cougars’ caps also featured a skull version of the team’s logo. Mascot Ozzie T. Cougar sported his own jersey and a vampire-inspired cape.
Cougars staff members were in costume, too, with Spider-Man, a cowboy, Sesame Street’s Count, a cheerleader, former Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed and a hot dog among those patrolling the areas in front of the dugouts before and during the game.
The staff also put their Photoshop skills to good use, cooking up some spooky shots of Cougars players to put up on the scoreboard during at-bats. Notable virtual costumes included catcher Cael Brockmeyer’s sad clown makeup and shortstop Carlos Penalver’s “V for Vendetta” mask.
Similar festivities will accompany today’s game.
Employee of the month
Cougars catcher Will Remillard was honored before the game for being named the parent Cubs’ minor league player of the month for April.
Remillard batted .373 with a .458 on-base percentage and a .549 slugging percentage in 15 April games. He hit a homer and six doubles while scoring nine runs.