NORMAL — A Normal CornBelters journey more than two months in the making reached its desired destination Thursday at the Corn Crib.
A 6-5 victory over Washington elevated Normal to the .500 mark for the first time since the second game of the season as Andrew Godbold's two-out single in the bottom of the ninth scored Santiago Chirino with the winning run before a crowd of 1,841.
"This team is really a good unit. We believe in each other," Godbold said. "I wasn't going to let the boys down again. I had enough of that this series. I got the chance to win it, and thankfully got it done."
After a 2-7 start, the now 27-27 Belters had crept within one game of the break even mark on several occassions only to fall back.
But singles from Justin Fletcher and Chirino preceded Godbold's opposite-field single to right field. As Fletcher cruised home to score, the Normal dugout emptied to mob Godbold at first base.
Normal manager Billy Horn believes his group will be a second-half team.
"It seems like we've had to sweat them all out this year," said Horn. "I'm real proud of my boys. It's good to fight back to .500, but we've got to keep going.
"Godbold had a couple tough at-bats early in the game, but he came through. We've regrouped and regenerated and brought in some missing pieces. We're excited for the rest of the second half."
Chirino's fourth of five hits, a seventh-inning single, drove in James Davison for a 5-4 lead before Washington's Conner Simonetti tied it with a solo home run to begin the ninth.
Washington (31-26) had taken a 3-1 lead with three runs in the sixth.
Normal struck back with three of its own in the bottom half of the frame for a 4-3 edge.
Chirino doubled, stole second and continued home as Wild Things catcher Kyle Pollock was slow to retrieve a passed ball. Derrick Loveless walked and came around to score on a Godbold triple before Godbold trotted home on a balk.
Washington knotted the score with a run in the seventh.
Anthony Herrera (6-3) was the winner in relief for the Belters. Starter Jacinto Garcia gave up three runs in six innings.
Lubach walks away: Normal catcher Tanner Lubach, a Frontier League all-star earlier this month, has retired from baseball.
"He just wanted to move on He's over baseball, I guess," Horn said. "He put in a couple years, and I think he was a little upset he didn't get picked up back to an organization."
Lubach was batting .276 with eight home runs and 25 RBIs. Back-up Cody Erickson becomes Normal's primary catcher with Cam Adams signed as a back up.
Erickson has a .211 average with no home runs and 10 RBIs.
"Cody has seen our guys (pitchers) all year and done a fine job," said Horn. "He will get the bulk of the (catcher) responsibilities."
Adams, a former North Park player, attended a tryout at the Corn Crib in June that led Horn to recommending Adams to Gateway. Adams batted .243 with seven RBIs in 13 games before being released by the Grizzlies.
"With Tanner retiring, it put us in a tight spot. We had to get somebody in a hurry," said Horn. "We really liked Cam at our workout, but we didn't have any room for him. We wound up sending him to Gateway and he did fine job fo them."
Trade of pitchers: Normal has traded reliever Trevor Simms to Chicago of the American Association in exchange for starter Connor Root.
"It's a good trade for Trevor. He really wanted to start, and I saw him as more of a bullpen guy," Horn said. "I've worked with Connor in the past in the Atlantic League."
Simms was 1-0 with a 4.82 ERA in 18⅔ innings for the Belters. Root was 2-8 and sported a 5.43 ERA in Chicago and will continue as a starter in Normal.
"We're going with a six-man rotation moving forward," said Horn. "All our boys and throwing well, so why disrupt that?"
Horn also reasons that since rotation members Jack Landwehr, Mark Hendricks and Nick Bozman were promoted from bullpen duty, and additional day off between starts should prove beneficial.