For a few fleeting seconds, Johnny Bowden’s job was looking relatively easy.
Hit a fly ball, bring home a runner from third to tie the game and allow the Wingnuts to continue their late-inning rally.
As it turned out, Bowden was the rally.
After Abel Nieves was out at second trying to stretch a single, Bowden’s simple RBI turned into a two-out, clutch situation in the eighth. He responded with a long, two-run home run, giving the Wingnuts a 4-3 lead over Kansas City at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
A night after setting the American Association record with 66 wins, the Wingnuts expanded it via a backup catcher who has far less than half of those victories. His home run was his first, and even though it happened in the eighth inning, it might be his walkoff shot as starter Cole Armstrong returns from injury on Sunday for Wichita’s regular-season finale.
The Central-division champion Wingnuts begin the playoffs Wednesday on the road against either Grand Prairie, Amarillo or Laredo.
“The biggest thing with two outs is to make sure you don’t put too much pressure on yourself,” said Bowden, who reached base in all four of his plate appearances Sunday. “He’s still got to throw you a strike, he’s still got to come to you, and a hit scores (the run), period.
“You try not to change your approach, you try not to put too much pressure on yourself, and that’s usually when good things happen.”
After scoring two runs in the third inning to take the lead, the Wingnuts managed a handful of meek rallies against Kansas City starter Rick Zagone, whose pitching line in the middle innings didn’t indicate much effort spent to escape trouble.
Wichita was retired in order once by Zagone, but didn’t get better than a single against him as he threw fewer than 10 pitches in four straight innings.
Meanwhile, Kansas City took the lead in the sixth with a pair of runs against otherwise dominant Wichita starter Anthony Capra, leaving the Wingnuts in need of a momentum-changing hit.
Nieves appeared to have it when he hit a line drive to right-center, moving C.J. Ziegler to third easily with one out. But Nieves tried to make it a double, and he was thrown out. That turned Bowden’s at-bat from a situational attempt at perhaps a sacrifice fly into one where only a hit would do the job.
Bowden took an 0-1 pitch from Zagone well beyond the wall in left field, the most important hit he’s had in 41 at-bats with the Wingnuts.
“That was about as good as I can get it,” Bowden said. “As soon as I hit it, I knew that if it stayed fair it was going to be good. It’s a nice feeling; it’s nice to get that winning hit, that’s always fun.”
Bowden’s homer kept Capra from being saddled with the loss in one of his best but most atypical starts.
Capra, who averages 11 strikeouts per nine innings, continued that trend by striking out 10. But he walked one, ending a streak of 11 starts with multiple walks, and surrendered a season-high nine hits in six innings.
Most pitchers would probably prefer allowing a hit rather than a walk, since a hit usually takes fewer pitches to produce the same result – a baserunner. Capra, though, is effective when working the edges of the strike zone, which allows both his walk and strikeout totals to rise.
Capra’s fastball can overpower hitters, but he’s at his best when his secondary pitches, such as his changeup, which drops out of the zone, down and away from right-handed hitters.
“I do try and work the corners a bit,” Capra said. “I wouldn’t say I nibble, but I don’t like to give in to hitters, even when I get behind in the count. I get myself in trouble, so I’d say getting ahead (in the count) is the biggest thing for me.”
Capra hasn’t pitched more than six innings in any start this season, and eight of his 17 starts have gone exactly that long. He says he might rather go deeper into games while sacrificing the strikeouts – and the walks – that elevate his pitch count, but his ability to control the first two-thirds of a game is plenty valuable.
Sunday, Capra’s battery-mate, Bowden, proved slightly more vital to the victory. He has started the last two games while Armstrong allowed his injured hand to heal, and Bowden has validated manager Kevin Hooper’s opinion.
“I know what I need to know about him,” Hooper said. “He’s a great person, good catcher – just good, solid, all the way around. I don’t need to see him to know that.”
Wingnuts 4, T-Bones 3
|Gathright lf||5||0||2||0||Khoury ss||4||0||2||0|
|Bass 1b||5||0||1||0||Kahaulelio 2b||4||0||0||0|
|Perez dh||4||0||1||0||Rodriguez dh||3||1||1||0|
|Coleman c||4||0||1||1||Ziegler 1b||4||2||2||0|
|Jones cf||4||0||0||0||Nieves 3b||3||0||2||2|
|Paramore 3b||3||1||1||0||Bowden c||2||1||2||2|
|Rivera rf||4||1||1||1||Beaird rf||4||0||3||0|
|Davis ss||4||0||1||0||Amberson cf||4||0||0||0|
|Miramontes 2b||4||1||2||0||McDonald lf||3||0||0||0|
E— Amberson (3)). DP— Kansas City 1, Wichita 2. LOB— KC 8, Wichita 7. 2B— Paramore (12), Rivera (7), Rodriguez (26), Nieves (23), Meard (6). HR — Bowden (1). SB — Bass (9), Miramontes (1), Khoury (25), Rodriguez (13), Nieves (17), Beaird (8). CS — Khoury (6), Nieves 3 (9).
|Zagone (L, 1-4)||7.2||12||4||4||3||3|
|Lambe (W, 1-0)||2||0||0||0||0||1|
|Dew (S, 27)||1||0||0||0||0||1|
WP — Zagone (3). Umpires—Home, Mike Carroll; first base, Trent Delmont; third base, Mitch Morgan.
T— 2:33. A—2,700