NORMAL — The opposite-field stroke mastered by the Normal franchise leader in hits had produced yet another line drive.
Yet with the CornBelters rallying, Yeixon Ruiz at second base and the shot off Santiago Chirino's bat seemingly destined for the right-field corner, lunging River City first baseman Clint Freeman snared the baseball and doubled Ruiz off second base.
Normal went quietly over the final two innings as the Rascals captured a 6-4 Frontier League victory at the Corn Crib.
"If ifs, ands and buts were candies and nuts, we would all have a merry Christmas," Normal manager Brooks Carey waxed philosophical. "Sometimes you don't get the candies and nuts you want, and we didn't get them tonight."
Normal's wild-card playoff hopes suffered a blow as the Belters (36-39) dropped 4½ games behind River City (42-36) for the final postseason spot.
"They pitched a little better than we did and hit a little better than we did," said Carey. "It's a game of inches. We had some chances there, and we didn't get the job done. That's when you usually lose."
The Rascals constructed a 5-1 lead with two runs in the fifth on two-out RBI singles from Johnny Morales and Josh Ludy and two more in the sixth as Paul Kronenfeld homered into the corn rows in right-center field with Josh Silver aboard.
Normal scored its second run in the sixth as Chirino doubled and scored on a Jesus Solorzano ground out.
River City took that run back quickly. Brandon Thomas tripled on a fly ball that Belters right fielder Nolan Meadows could not locate and trotted home on a Ludy double.
The Belters received a double from Miguel Torres and a run-scoring single by Diego Cedeno to open the home half of the seventh. Ruiz doubled in Cedeno before Freeman, whose solo home run accounted for the initial River City tally, transformed Chirino's liner into a double play.
Normal starter Edgar De La Rosa (2-5) struck out seven in six innings but yielded 10 hits and five earned runs.
"We needed a better start from De La Rosa to win against this team." Carey said. "And we didn't get it."
Jonathan De Marte struck out six and allowed one run in three innings of relief for the Belters.
"There's not any quit in these guys," said Carey. "We're playing pretty good baseball. We're going to come up short sometimes."
River City starter Hector Hernandez (7-7) gave up four runs in 6 1/3 innings. Cody Mincey, the fifth Rascals' hurler, worked the ninth for his ninth save.
The series continues Saturday with first pitch scheduled for 6:35 p.m.