The connections between Wingnuts pitcher Josh Lowey and first baseman-outfielder Gerardo Avila go beyond their contributions to a 6-1 win over Fargo-Moorhead on Saturday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The players were traded for one another during the offseason; after Avila was acquired in a dispersal draft, he was dealt to River City of the Frontier League, where Lowey earned Pitcher of the Year honors in 2011.
Both were surprised when their paths crossed in Wichita, but had they not, the Wingnuts might still be mired in a deep funk. With the aid of Avila’s two-run homer in the second and seven strong innings by Lowey, the Wingnuts won for the fifth time in 21 games.
The win featured the dramatic ejections of designated hitter John Rodriguez, manager Kevin Hooper and pitching coach Luke Robertson. But when the drama died down Saturday’s victory was about Avila and Lowey finding a new link.
“As soon as I saw him when I got here the first time, I said, ‘How weird is that — you got traded for me,’ ” Avila said. “And now we’re both on the same team. He’s a great guy and I think we have great chemistry. This win tonight is a big win for us.”
Lowey allowed what proved to be the only run against him in the second, when Avila’s former teammate in Fort Worth, Marcos Rodriguez, delivered an RBI double. Avila immediately erased the deficit with his homer in the bottom half, his second with the Wingnuts but first in two weeks.
Avila ended up back with the Wingnuts after the team lost several key hitters to the Mexican League or to injury at the end of June. The team was running away with the American Association Central when Avila joined the team, but since his arrival coincided with those important departures, Avila hasn’t had the same experience.
Avila’s average was .216 on July 14, but thanks to a six-game hitting streak that has included a pair of three-hit games, it’s up to .286.
“What’s going in my mind right now is trying to help the team as much as I can,” Avila said. “I knew they had a pretty good record when I got here. We’ve been struggling a little bit but we’re trying to get those wins back. We’re trying to get that confidence back as a team again.”
The Wingnuts have found a multitude of ways to squander momentum during their litany of losses recently, but Lowey made a slim early lead stand before Wichita added to it in the sixth and the seventh.
Fargo has arguably the best lineup in the league with the recent additions of power hitters Ryan Delgado and Eric Campbell, but the RedHawks’ success against Wingnuts pitching the previous two nights gave Lowey an ultimately effective plan of attack.
After a walk in the third, Lowey retired 11 of the next 12 batters. Fargo notched consecutive one-out singles against him in the seventh, but Lowey ended the rally and his night with a pair of strikeouts.
“I noticed that the pitches they were hitting well were up, belt-high pitches,” said Lowey, who tied for the league lead with his 10th win. “I tried to do my best to keep the ball down tonight, mix in and out and keep them uncomfortable and off-balance.”
After John Rodriguez took a called third strike in the third, he was ejected by home plate umpire Steve Linton after a brief but calm argument. When Robertson and Hooper came to Rodriguez’s defense, they were tossed by first base umpire Tim McCaffrey.
When Robertson and pitcher Matt Nevarez were ejected in the ninth inning of Thursday’s loss to Fargo, it appeared to be the boiling point of the Wingnuts’ recent troubles. Saturday’s ejections had the opposite effect, giving the Wingnuts a spark that allowed them to score four insurance runs during the sixth and seventh innings while also motivating Lowey.
“I think that gave us a little bit of momentum,” Lowey said. “Personally, it kind of fueled me to want to better. To have our manager and our pitching coach thrown out in the same inning, it can be frustrating. But I’m glad we took it in a positive way and it turned out very well for us.”
|Penprase ss||4||0||1||0||Khoury ss||4||1||1||0|
|Sosnoskie rf||4||0||1||0||Conroy cf||2||1||1||0|
|Jackson cf||2||0||1||0||J. Rodriguez dh||2||0||0||0|
|Campbell 3b||3||0||0||0||Carrillo dh||1||1||0||0|
|Gaston lf||3||1||1||0||Perez 2b||4||1||2||2|
|Delgado dh||4||0||0||0||Peralta rf||4||0||2||1|
|M. Rodriguez 1b||4||0||2||1||Wagner 1b||3||1||0||0|
|Jennings c||4||0||1||0||Avila lf||4||1||1||2|
|Cota 2b||4||0||0||0||Mier c||3||0||0||0|
E— McDonald (4). LOB— Fargo 8, Wichita 5. DP— Fargo 1, Wichita 2. 2B— M. Rodriguez (17), Conroy (10), Peralta (19). HR — Avila (2). SB — Khoury (17), Conroy 2 (12), Perez (3), Peralta (14).
|Burnside L, 6-4||6 2/3||6||5||5||4||3|
|Lowey W, 10-2||7||6||1||1||2||4|
|Simon S,1||1 2/3||0||0||0||0||2|
HBP — by Walters (Gaston). WP — Lowey, Walters. Umpires — home, Steve Linton; first, Tim McCaffrey; third, Dan Hoffman. T — 3:00. A — 3,495.