Blessed with an offence that could do no wrong on the road and a pitching staff that could do no right, the Thunder Bay Border Cats were all but unstoppable last week in Waterloo.
But switch things around, like they did Tuesday night at Port Arthur Stadium, and the team struggles mightily.
Joey Webb tossed a complete-game, three-hit shutout gem to lead the Duluth Huskies to a 1-0 win in the opener of a twi-night doubleheader and starter Evan Geist only allowed a pair of Border Cats hits and a lonely run as Duluth took the nightcap 3-1.
“It’s tough when you look at (the lack of hitting), but when you look at the bright side it’s good to see the pitching kept us in the game, which they’ve done now for the past week,” said Thunder Bay manager Andy Judkins, whose team slipped to 5-8 and into the basement of the Northwoods League’s North Division standings.
It was the fourth loss in a row for the Cats and their third straight against the Huskies, a team they’ll take to the road to play another pair starting on Wednesday.
“The pitching’s there right now, we just have to pick up the offence a little bit,” Judkins said, acknowledging the injury bug that’s sidelined the likes of DH Scott Donley and Justin Higley, a pair of regulars in the Thunder Bay lineup.
“We’ve just got to find another couple of guys to step up and try and win a couple of games.”
Webb, who entered Tuesday’s opener with an ERA even a Colorado Rockies pitcher would be embarrassed to own, mowed the Cats down in his seventh start of the season.
He took a no-hitter into the fourth, when with one out newcomer Andrew Ayers slashed a double to centre. With the outfield playing shallow, Kyle Lombardo followed with a single, but Ayers had to hold at third, as far as he would go.
Matt Cooper was a stud for the Cats, coming on in relief in the second inning after starter Kacy Kemmer went down with an undisclosed injury.
Cooper allowed just three hits in five-and-two-thirds, but wound up taking the loss when Conor Szczerba singled home Connor Joe in the top of the seventh – both games were shortened to seven innings – the only run of the ballgame.
It made a winner out of Webb for the second time in five decisions.
“I just let the defence work,” Webb said. “The last time I pitched against Thunder Bay I wasn’t that good, so I knew I had to step it up and get a lot of outs, a lot of ground balls.”
Webb was scheduled to start on Monday, and the extra day of rest helped. Sweeping the Cats at home and taking the first three games of the set has put the Cats atop the North Division at 9-5, just where Duluth wants to be.
“It’s huge. We’ve got the all-star break coming up, so if we can keep it rolling until then for a couple of games, we can get everybody to chase us for first place,” he said.
In Game 2, Omar Cotto scored leading off the contest to stake Cats starter Dan Ludwig to an early 1-0 lead, but the Huskies tied it with a two-out rally in the third, a James Ramsay single knotting the score.
Duluth took the lead for good in the fifth, Max Duval scoring on an error by left-fielder Cory Kay.
Thunder Bay had opportunities to tie the game in the final three innings, but failed. Danny Bethea hit into an inning-ending double play with two on in the fifth, James Bonds grounded out with one on in the sixth and Adam Landecker ended the contest against reliever Dylan Vogt in the seventh, the 4-6-3 double play snuffing the threat.
Claw marks: Cats all-star reliever Wes Parsons is mulling a contract offer from the Tampa Bay Rays. A scout approached him in Duluth … Former Cats pitcher Jake Nystrom tossed 1.2 innings of no-hit ball in relief of Geist in Game 2. Nystrom was with Thunder Bay in 2010 … Woody Nesbit pitched in both halves of the doubleheader for Thunder Bay.
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