The Wingnuts’ hustle and execution has a purpose beyond getting the Wingnuts into a postseason mentality.
In the playoffs, where every run is precious, stolen bases, hit-and-run plays and taking the extra base will take on an added importance. During the Wingnuts’ 5-3 win over Kansas City at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium Saturday night, getting into scoring position by any means was to boost a teammate.
Wichita set the American Association record with its 66th win with two games left with the T-Bones. Next on the Wingnuts’ list is helping first baseman C.J. Ziegler set the league RBI standard.
Ziegler didn’t collect any RBIs Saturday and remains stuck on 98, five behind the record of 103 set by Cesar Nicolas of Grand Prairie in 2009. It wasn’t for lack of trying, as John Rodriguez legged out a triple before Ziegler’s eighth-inning at-bat and manager Kevin Hooper put runners in motion to move them into scoring position for Ziegler.
“We all know Z’s at 98 with RBIs, and I think everybody is trying to get him to at least 100,” Hooper said. “Still hoping we can get him to 103 or 104. That’s the way we play. If you pull back and pull the reins back, you’ve got a chance of something happening where we’re trying to ease into (the playoffs). Just play the way we know how to and the rest will take care of itself.”
Jake Kahaulelio drove in four of Wichita’s runs with timely hitting even he would have rather reserved for Ziegler. With runners on first and second and no outs in a 2-2 game in the fifth, Kahaulelio was set on bunting the runners into scoring position with Ziegler two batters behind him.
After Kahaulelio pulled back his bunt attempt on a ball, Hooper called off the play and opted instead for a hit-and-run. Kahaulelio hit a line drive to the gap in right-center field that scored both runs and left Ziegler a runner on second.
Ziegler instead grounded into an unconventional double play to third, where Anthony Davis tagged out Kahaulelio on what was originally a stolen base attempt before throwing to first.
Ziegler struck out with a runner on third in the eighth, but that didn’t deter the Wingnuts’ desire to get him the RBI record or to play the brand of baseball that includes multiple power hitters but also a capability to scratch out single runs.
“Just going to treat it like another game, just like all of them,” Hooper said. “Just like the previous 96. Like right there with (Kahaulelio), we let him bunt for a hit and if they threw a ball we were hitting-and-running. It was good, because he’d been pulling off some balls lately, to see him stay on a ball right there. It’s good to put guys in motion and make things happen.”
That mentality wasn’t better expressed than when Rodriguez legged out an RBI triple in the eighth. The ball went into the right-field corner and Rodriguez never stopped running, even though his RBI was secure.
The triple gave Ziegler an easier RBI chance and lifted the Wingnuts, who aren’t lacking motivation more than a week after clinching a playoff bid.
“That’s the kind of leader he is,” Kahaulelio said. “He could have easily pulled up for a double, but he legged out a triple. That’s the kind of player he is, and that’s what we feed off of.”
A game that had virtually no meaning aside from the Wingnuts chasing the wins record probably could have looked that way if not for their insistence on entering the playoffs at full speed.
They didn’t get a similar urgency from Kansas City, playing for nothing with a 40-58 record. The T-Bones swung early and often, even facing 12 pitches in a third inning where they scored two runs.
Wichita starter Justin Klipp did have to work in one instance, though. He allowed two hits and a walk in the sixth, but pitched out of a jam with a double-play grounder, limiting the damage against him to one run.
“It gives me confidence to be able to get out of those situations,” said Kipp, Wichita’s Game 3 playoffs starter. “Just looking forward to the playoffs and to bringing home a championship.”
|Bass dh||5||1||1||1||Khoury ss||3||1||1||0|
|Gathright lf||4||0||2||1||Kahaulelio 2b||3||1||2||4|
|Perez 2b||4||0||1||0||Rodriguez dh||4||0||1||1|
|Jones cf||3||1||1||0||Ziegler 1b||4||0||0||0|
|Coleman 1b||3||0||0||0||Clevlen cf||4||0||0||0|
|Paramore c||4||0||1||0||Nieves 3b||3||0||0||0|
|Molina ss||4||0||2||1||Bowden c||3||0||0||0|
|Rivera rf||4||0||0||0||Amberson lf||3||1||1||0|
|Davis 3b||3||1||1||0||McDonald rf||2||2||1||0|
E— Paramore (2). DP— Kansas City 1, Wichita 2. LOB— Kansas 8, Wichita 4. 2B— Jones (24), Kahaulelio (24). 3B — Bass (3), Rodriguez (4). SB — Kahaulelio (15). CS — Paramore (2).
|Picht (L, 0-1)||4||4||4||4||3||2|
|Klipp (W, 8-3)||6||9||3||3||1||3|
|Dew (S, 26)||1||0||0||0||0||2|
WP — Dew (1). Umpires—Home, Mitch Morgan; first, Mike Carroll; second, Trent Delmont.