Winkelman, Huskies enjoy Fourth of July victory
With Alex Winkelman starting on the mound for the Duluth Huskies, his father, John Winkelman, got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to his son on Friday at Wade Stadium.
The elder Winkelman wasn’t holding anything back. He cocked his arm back and let it rip.
Juuuuuuuuuuuust a bit outside.
Fortunately for Duluth, Alex’s pitches were a lot better.
Alex Winkelman allowed just one run in 6⅔ innings and the Huskies got just enough late-inning offense to eke out a 2-1 Northwoods League victory over the Alexandria Blue Anchors before a Fourth of July crowd of 1,107.
With a gaudy 1.85 ERA but ugly 1-3 record, Winkelman has not had much to show for his quality starts this season. He didn’t get the win here, either, as reliever A.J. McElderry earned the victory after Alex Michaels’ RBI double in the bottom of the eighth won it for Duluth (11-28 overall, 2-1 second half).
“That’s just baseball,” Winkelman said of his tough luck this season. “All you can do is give your team a chance to win, and the wins and losses will sort themselves out. I’d certainly take a no decision in a Huskies’ victory than the other way around any day.”
With the second half just under way and a playoff spot up for grabs, the Huskies’ certainly appear to be playing with renewed vigor. Errors have hurt Duluth this season but Friday was perhaps the cleanest defensive game the Huskies have played all season at Wade Stadium.
Winkelman was asked if the Huskies’ rough first half was already a memory.
“Not even that,” he said. “We’ve already forgotten about it.”
Alexandria (10-27, 1-2) got the potential tying run aboard with one out in the ninth inning only to have Huskies catcher Dominic Miroglio throw him out trying to steal second.
Duluth could have easily made Winkelman the winner in this one, but the Huskies stranded eight base runners and hit into three double plays.
“We’ve played better the last 10 days, with just about every loss by a run,” said Alexandria manager Al Newman, a former Minnesota Twin. “It was one of those games where any mistake can cost you. Unfortunately, we didn’t push another run across, but Duluth had three chances of its own and came up empty. The main thing for both Duluth and us is that we’re seeing improvement, and that’s what this league is supposed to be all about.”
Winkelman, of Crystal City, Mo., went 6-2 with a 3.48 ERA as a sophomore at NCAA Division I Southeast Missouri State this spring. He breezed through the first six innings and quickly got the first two men out to start the seventh before getting pulled after yielding a walk.
That run eventually scored but Duluth’s bullpen was otherwise solid and Miroglio tied the game 1-1 with a solo home run in the bottom half of the inning, setting up Michaels’ heroics.
“Great team win,” Duluth coach Daniel Hersey said. “Alex came out and had his stuff. He was just dominating, and then our bullpen took it from there.”
Of Winkelman’s 100 pitches, 60 were for strikes. His worst pitch was his first, an errant throw that was just like his father’s — all the way to the backstop.
“Dad was the one who taught me how to throw, so I guess I was paying just a little too much attention to that opening pitch,” Alex Winkelman said, laughing.
With a 5:05 p.m. start time, Alex Winkelman was asked what he planned to do with the rest of the Fourth off.
“Got to catch up with my parents,” Alex Winkelman said. “It’s been awhile, and I’m sure they want to see a little bit of Duluth.”
Apparently, John and Kelly Winkelman liked what they saw so far. They broke up the 12-hour drive from Crystal City with a stop in Iowa overnight before arriving in Duluth before Friday’s game.
“This is our first time in Duluth, and as we came in on Interstate 35, and you see Lake Superior out there and the city of Duluth, it was breathtaking,” John Winkelman said.
With about 72 games in 75 days, playing in the Northwoods League is a big-time commitment. About 10 Huskies had parents in attendance on Friday, easily the most this season. The Winkelmans hope to see Alex pitch next week at Mankato before heading home to Missouri.
“What a great night,” John Winkelman said. “Alex and I played a lot of catch over the years, school yard, church yard, wherever we had a chance, and I had the privilege of being his coach. He is a lot better than I ever could have come up with. He is a really talented young man and we’re really proud of him, so for him to play so well, on a big night like this, the Fourth of July, it’s just very special. What a fantastic way to spend the holiday weekend.”