John Rodriguez hit a ball to the right-center field gap in the eighth inning on Saturday, and the only question seemed to be where he would end up.
The certainty was that the Wingnuts designated hitter would drive in two runs to tie the game against New Jersey, and Rodriguez might have ended up as the go-ahead run on third base if an untrue bounce or ricochet allowed him to stretch a double into a triple.
The bad bounce, though, went against the Wingnuts. Rodriguez’s liner bounced on top of the wall and over it, scoring one run on a ground-rule double but moving the other runner from first to third. C.J. Ziegler followed with a strikeout and New Jersey held on for a 7-6 win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The game took nearly 3 1/2 hours and featured 306 pitches. Those included 14 walks, two hit batters and 18 two-strike foul balls that lengthened at-bats for pitchers.
Wichita was undone by a bouncy turf, but a human error also contributed to the defeat. After Cole Armstrong reached on an infield hit to start the bottom of the ninth, Abel Nieves failed on two attempts to execute a sacrifice bunt before grounding into a double play.
The bad break on Rodriguez’s double was perhaps even more deflating because it came as part of an eighth inning when the Wingnuts’ middle-of-the-order hitters were due up. The last out of the game was made by rookie David Amberson, dropping his average below .100.
"That’s just the breaks," Rodriguez said. "I was hoping that it would either hit off (right fielder Bryan Sabatella’s) glove or skip to the fence, not over it. That happens in baseball, but we’ve got to do the little things. We’ve got to get those bunts down, that hurt us right there."
The Wingnuts (5-5) scored in five innings but couldn’t sustain those long enough to rally from a deficit that reached 6-3 in the fifth inning and 7-4 in the sixth thanks mostly to a shaky outing by starting pitcher Kristhiam Linares.
Wichita sent at least five batters to the plate in six of the innings but never had more than six. Rodriguez’s hit appared to be the one that would finally allow the Wingnuts to break through with a chance to then break it open, but it was a victim of the rubbery field turf.
"Especially if it has some height to it," Rodriguez said. "Mine was more of a line drive, so I didn’t think it was going out. I thought it would at least skip and go to the wall, but it happens."
Linares lost his second straight decision to start the season, setting a tone that reliever Anthony Capra reversed but that the offense couldn’t quite erase. Linares walked five batters, four of which scored, and he was unable to limit the damage when he found himself in trouble.
After a two-out walk in the third, Linares was struck for a three-run homer by Yasanberto Arbelo to give the Jackals a 4-3 lead. Two innings later, Chris Curran drew a leadoff walk from Linares before Jeremy Barnes hit the first of his two homers. Linares walked the next batter and his night was over.
"We walked a lot of guys on our end, too," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "For a defense, it gets tiring out there when you keep walking guys. Kind of a weird game, a weird feel."
Capra walked the first batter he faced and needed 28 pitches to finish the fifth, but from that point forward he was strong. Capra struck out seven in three innings, though the only hit he allowed — Barnes’ second home run — proved to be the one New Jersey needed to hold off the Wingnuts.
Only Amberson didn’t score or drive in a run for Wichita, though he contributed to a two-run second with a sacrifice bunt. The Wingnuts left 11 runners on base, seven in scoring position.
"We had plenty of chances, plenty of chances," Hooper said. "Can’t blame it on one play, but there at the end we’ve got to be able to do the little things and we didn’t do it."
|Sabatella rf||4||0||0||0||Khoury ss||4||1||1||1|
|Curran cf||2||1||1||0||Kahaulelio 2b||4||1||1||0|
|Barnes ss||4||3||3||3||Rodriguez dh||4||2||2||2|
|Duffy 1b||4||0||0||0||Ziegler 1b||4||0||2||1|
|Giarraputo 3b||3||1||0||0||Armstrong 1b||4||0||2||1|
|Arbelo dh||3||2||1||3||Nieves 3b||2||1||0||0|
|Rams lf||3||0||1||0||Perren lf||4||1||2||0|
|Matthews lf, ph||1||0||0||0||Amberson rf||4||0||0||0|
|Cuevas 2b||4||0||1||0||McDonald cf||3||0||0||1|
|New Jersey||013||020||100||—||7 7 1|
|Wichita||120||010||110||—||6 9 0|
E— Cuevas (2). LOB— New Jersey 7, Wichita 11. DP— New Jersey 1. 2B— Kahaulelio (4), Rodriguez (4), Ziegler 2 (4), Armstrong (3). HR — Barnes 2 (4), Arbelo (1), Rodriguez (2). SF — Armstrong (1), McDonald (2). S — Curran, Amberson. SB — Sabatella (5), Curran (8), Duffy (1), Khoury (3), Kahaulelio (1), Nieves (1), Perren (1). CS — Curran (2). HBP — Khoury (4) by Filak, Nieves (1) by Adleman.
|Filak W, 2-0||5||4||4||4||4||1|
|Cantwell S (3)||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Linares L, 0-2||4||6||6||6||5||1|
HB — Khoury by Filak (2), Nieves by Adleman (2).
Umpires — home, Craig Compton; first, Dan Hoffman; third, John Durante. T — 3:19. A — 3137.