Chiefs pitchers wriggled their way out of jams in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings Wednesday as Peoria defeated the Kane County Cougars, 5-2, before a crowd of 8,994 in the third annual Road to Wrigley game.
Early on, it looked like it was going to be Kane County's night. Ian Krol (6-3) retired the first seven batters but unraveled in the fourth inning. With the score tied, 1-1, Peoria's bats came alive.
Greg Rohan lined a one-out single to center field and D.J. Fitzgerald reached on a base hit off Krol's glove one out later. Jae-Hoon Ha gave the Chiefs' faithful a moment they'll never forget, taking an 0-2 offering over the left-field wall to put Peoria ahead for good.
"He's got a little pop," Peoria manager Casey Kopitzke said. "He's more of a line-drive doubles-type hitter, but he got a pitch and he didn't miss it and it gave us a little boost."
While Ha provided the fireworks, starter Rob Whitenack (7-6) gave the Chiefs a chance to win. He allowed one run on four hits over five innings, striking out four en route to his first win since June 20.
"I was just trying to execute my pitches and minimize the damage because I knew that we would score some runs. And we did," the said. "I was a little nervous when I first came out, but once I stepped on the mound, I zoned in on the catcher and it didn't bother me after that."
While Ha and Whitenack combined to put the Cougars down, they were far from out. Kane County had several opportunities to rally but failed to capitalize.
"We didn't do a very good job with runners in scoring position overall throughout the course of the game," Cougars manager Aaron Nieckula said. "I thought our kids battled through their at-bats, we just couldn't score when we needed to."
In the fifth, Tyreace House walked, stole second and took third on a groundout by Connor Crumbliss. But Anthony Aliotti hit a sinking liner up the middle that was snared by shortstop Hak-Ju Lee to end the inning.
Kane County cut into the deficit in the sixth. Yohan Gonzalez relieved Whitenack and got two quick outs before walking Max Stassi. Mike Gilmartin doubled to the right-center field gap to make it 4-2 before Chris Affinito struck out.
In the seventh, Gonzalez issued two-out walks to Crumbliss and Aliotti. Kopitzke brought in Manolin DeLeon, who retired Rashun Dixon on a groundout to third to end the threat.
"That's part of [the bullpen's] role and they've done a great job holding leads for us with the bend but don't break approach," Kopitzke said. "They did a good job pitching out of some jams, even though they put themselves in them, but they buckled down and picked each other up."
Gilmartin fell a homer shy of the cycle for the Cougars, going 3-for-4 with an RBI and a stolen base.
"It couldn't have gone any better," the 2009 27th-round pick said. "The only way it could have gone any better is if I would've hit a home run and we would've won. I saw the ball well, put some good swings on it and got lucky on some of those."
Fortunately for both teams, the rain that forced a 2 1/2-hour delay in the Angels-White Sox game on Chicago's South Side steered clear of Wrigley Field.
"To be able to win is just icing on the cake," Kopitzke said. "It was a great experience for the team and myself as well. It was just a thrill."