With a two-day trip to Clinton already planned for this weekend, I made a last-minute decision to drive down to Peoria for Friday’s game first, figuring it might be my best chance to see Bowling Green’s Wander Franco, just in case the top prospect doesn’t stay in the Midwest League long enough to play in this year’s All-Star Game. And even though I saw Nolan Gorman play with the Chiefs a couple times late last season, I was eager to see him on the field again, too.
As it turned out, Franco and Gorman each went 0-for-4, but the starting pitchers were worth the price of admission. Hot Rods RHP Caleb Sampen was most impressive, allowing only one hit while striking out eight and walking none in seven innings.
Chiefs LHP Diego Cordero kept pace with 6.2 scoreless innings in which he scattered four hits, struck out four, and walked none.
Both offenses finally broke through in the 8th inning. The Hot Rods scored first on a Jake Palomaki RBI single in the top half.
The Chiefs responded with two runs in the bottom half, plating runs on a Brandon Riley RBI single followed by a fielder’s choice.
Hot Rods third baseman Connor Hollis was the only player with more than one hit in the game. He hit two doubles.
The Chiefs held on for a 2-1 win in the first game of the series, a rematch of last year’s Midwest League finals. (The Hot Rods won the championship series, earning their first MWL title.)
The two teams will play as the Peoria Distillers and the Bowling Green Bootleggers in Saturday’s “Battle for the Barrel,” a nod to the alcohol-brewing histories of their hometowns.
Sunday’s game reportedly will feature a rehab appearance by St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez, though that plan could get altered because of rain in the forecast for that day. The right-handed fireballer previously pitched in the Midwest League in 2011, when he made eight starts for the Quad Cities River Bandits. He went 3-2 with a 2.33 ERA, 50 strikeouts and 14 walks in 38.2 innings.
*All photos by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler