The Wingnuts have mastered the rare occasion where “act like you’ve been there before” doesn’t necessarily apply.
Even though Wichita’s 5-3 win over Grand Prairie Friday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium clinched a fourth playoff bid in five seasons, the celebrations never subside.
Preparations were being made for the now-familiar romp on the field by around the third inning. Wichita’s players must have gotten a sense of what awaited them in the clubhouse, because that’s when they perked up after a sluggish start.
The win allowed the Wingnuts to clinch the American Association Central and advance to the postseason. The only time manager Kevin Hooper failed to lead Wichita to the playoffs in his five-year tenure — 2010 — they missed by a single game.
“It does never get old,” Wichita shortstop Ryan Khoury said. “Each year, each team is a brand-new team. This year, we came out from the get-go that we wanted to do this, then get into the (playoffs), then go from there.”
Hooper has frequently urged his collection of players, which set the franchise record Friday with win No. 61, to play with emotion and energy that matches their peak talent level.
Those traits weren’t always evident Friday, but that could be taken as somewhat of a positive sign. Even though the Wingnuts weren’t at their best for much of the game, they saw the goal – clinching the division with nine games to play in the season – and found a way to achieve it.
While Wichita’s first three innings were littered with mistakes, including a middle-of-the-plate fastball that Andres Rodriguez turned into a two-run homer in the first and an unearned run in the third after an error, the Wingnuts executed well in two productive innings that carried them to a win.
“Nine innings is a long time,” Khoury said. “Whether we’re down after the first three, five, seven, eight, whatever, we know that we have talent on this team and we can come back and score some runs.”
Grand Prairie led 3-0 after Abel Nieves’ throwing error in the third, but the lead was quickly erased as the Wingnuts found their own ways to capitalize on miscues during the following two innings.
David Amberson was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the third, and he moved to third on a wild pickoff throw before scoring on a groundout. Jake Kahaulelio doubled, moved to third on a John Rodriguez infield single, and stole home after Grand Prairie catcher Angel Flores threw to second on Rodriguez’s own steal attempt.
The Wingnuts notched two more runs in the fourth with the help of a wild pitch that scored Brent Clevlen and moved Nieves to third.
“That’s what good teams do, is take advantage of mistakes,” Hooper said. “We got back in it right there, stealing second, stealing third, to end up tying it up. Then we took the lead with two more big ones.”
The Wingnuts’ bullpen could claim a share of the win for its collective clutch performances in the late innings. Grand Prairie got its first two runners on base in the seventh and eighth innings but failed to score, a combination of poor at-bats and precise location that induced weak contact.
James Giulietti earned his second win in as many starts with Wichita, allowing two earned runs with five strikeouts in six innings. Giulietti is one of the few current Wingnuts who weren’t with the team last year, a group of holdovers enjoying its second postseason appearance and looking for more after losing in the championship series last year.
A championship is the Wingnuts’ only uncharted territory. Otherwise, when it comes to the postseason, they’ve been there before.
“The ultimate goal is to (celebrate) three times,” Hooper said. “Right now, after the first round, and after it all. We’re all ready to do this a third time. Don’t mess around with two times, we need to get it a third time. We haven’t had it yet. If you keep putting yourself in the position, you’re going to win one eventually.”
|Mozingo lf||5||0||1||0||Khoury ss||4||0||0||0|
|Pinckney 3b/ss||3||2||1||0||Kahaullio 2b||3||1||1||0|
|Pineda 2b||4||0||0||0||J.Rodrigz dh||4||1||2||0|
|A.Rodrigz 1b||3||1||2||2||Ziegler 1b||4||0||3||1|
|Karr dh||3||0||2||1||Clevlen cf||4||1||1||0|
|Held rf||3||0||0||0||Nieves 3b||2||1||1||0|
|Nishimoto ss||3||0||0||0||Armstrong c||4||0||0||0|
|Myrow ph||1||0||0||0||Amberson rf||3||1||1||1|
|Flores c||4||0||1||0||McDonald lf||3||0||0||1|
|Grand Prairie||201||000||000||—||3 7 1|
|Wichita||003||200||00x||—||5 9 1|
E – Camilli (1), Ziegler (16). DP – Grand Prairie 1, Wichita 1. LOB — Grand Prairie 8, Wichita 6. 2B— Flores (19), Kahaulelio (20), Ziegler (30). HR – A. Rodriguez (14). SB – Kahaulelio (13), J. Rodriguez (11), Nieves (15). CS – A. Rodriguez (1), Ziegler (3). SF – Karr (3).
|Camilli L, 0-2||4||7||5||5||0||0|
|Giulietti W, 2-0||6||5||3||2||4||5|
|Dew S, 24||1||0||0||0||0||3|
HBP — Kahaulelio by Camilli, Amberson by Camilli. WP — Camilli, Giulietti. PB – Armstrong.. Umpires—Home, Joe Stegner; first, Steve Linton; third, Mike Mazzarisi.
T — 2:58. A — 3,753.