Among the most predictable elements about the Wingnuts, nightly wins might be second on the list.
Wichita won its 13th straight game Thursday night, beating Lincoln 4-3 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, by falling back on a statistical quirk that has served it well even when league-record winning streaks weren’t being threatened.
The Wingnuts seem to frequently score the half-inning after their opponent ties the game or takes the lead. That happened in the crucial fifth inning Thursday, as Wichita answered Lincoln’s two runs by plating a pair to retake the lead.
Back-to-back two-out doubles by John Rodriguez and C.J. Ziegler drove in runs.
“That’s what’s the good thing about this lineup we’ve got, (we can score) at any time,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “We answered back tonight, that’s what I love. We give up two, we come right back and get two. That’s what good teams are going to do.”
The Wingnuts are two games away from tying the American Association record of 15 straight wins, set by Pensacola in 2010. Seemingly the only thing that could prevent the streak reaching those heights and beyond is a dominant pitching performance, and Lincoln has the personnel to achieve one.
Thursday, the Saltdogs limited the Wingnuts to four runs, a total Wichita has topped nine times during the streak, but they couldn’t curtail the Wingnuts’ clutch and situational hitting.
Catcher Cole Armstrong delivered Wichita’s first run with a two-out RBI single in the second, then gave the Wingnuts a 2-1 lead with a run-scoring groundout in the fourth.
Armstrong, at .240, has the lowest batting average among Wichita regulars, but during the streak he has piled up 10 RBIs despite not having a multi-hit game.
“Hits come when they come, and all you can do is go up there and look to square a ball up,” Armstrong said. “There are so many threats in the lineup that I know if I don’t get it done, someone behind me is going to pick me up and get it done.”
Wingnuts starter Justin Klipp, who prides himself on pitching out of trouble, didn’t face much of it after Lincoln scored in the first. Klipp retired 12 of 13 batters at one point, yielding only a two-out, second-inning single in that stretch.
A misplay by left fielder Jared McDonald that turned into a Yasel Gomez two-out double, though, gave Lincoln the opening it was looking for. The next batter, Mike Coles, clubbed a two-run home run that put the Saltdogs ahead 3-2.
Klipp regained his sharpness with runners on after that, working around the single that followed Coles’ homer and a pair of doubles he allowed later in his outing. Klipp (4-1) went 6 2/3 innings, walking one with six strikeouts.
“It’s the same mentality,” Klipp said. “Let a guy get on, so what. Just keep pitching my game and keep getting after hitters.”
Klipp earned the win because the Wingnuts used their near-nightly trick of scoring when most threatened. Their fifth inning seemed to be going nowhere when the next two batters failed to build on McDonald’s leadoff single, but Rodriguez changed that.
The hottest hitter during the winning streak with 24 hits, Rodriguez reversed Wichita’s fortunes with an RBI double that was then duplicated by Ziegler. Those two have been as predictable as winning and timely hitting as the only two Wingnuts to start every game.
Klipp said he was feeding off the momentum the winning streak has provided, and the Wingnuts have a veteran team with the right amount of urgency and motivation to keep it going without letting it dominate their thinking.
“We’re playing great ball,” Armstrong said. “The funny thing about this game is there are nights where you can come out and do everything right, but the other team can get some breaks to go their way and do everything right, too, and they end up beating you.
“We’re trying not to ride too high right now. We’re feeling good and everything is going our way right now. There are going to be times where things don’t go our way, and we’ve got to be prepared to get through that.”
|Coles cf||5||2||3||2||Khoury ss||4||0||0||0|
|Douglas dh||5||0||1||0||Kahaulelio 2b||4||1||1||0|
|Espinosa 2b||4||0||0||0||Rodriguez dh||4||1||1||1|
|Smith 3b||3||0||1||1||Ziegler 1b||4||1||2||1|
|Gaston rf||4||0||1||0||Clevlen cf||2||1||1||0|
|Forgatch lf||3||0||0||0||Nieves 3b||4||0||0||0|
|Wuest 1b||4||0||0||0||Armstrong c||3||0||1||2|
|O’Connell c||4||0||1||0||Amberson rf||0||0||0||0|
|Gomez ss||4||1||2||0||McDonald lf||3||0||1||0|
E— Wuest (2). LOB— Lincoln 8, Wichita 5. 2B— Smith (3), Gaston (14), Gomez 2 (11), Rodriguez (22), Ziegler 2 (19). HR — Coles (1). SB — Coles (11), Ziegler (1), Clevlen 2 (5).
|Bougher L, 2-3||7||6||4||4||2||3|
|Klipp W, 4-1||6 2/3||8||3||3||0||6|
|Holdzkom S, 1||1||1||0||0||0||1|
WP — Aizenstadt (4). Umpires—Home, Brock Ballou; first, Joe Pascucci; second, P.J. Krauss.
T— 2:30 . A— 2,632.