Cristian Guerrero might not be the best fit for a Gary SouthShore team built upon plate discipline and speed. Guerrero, the RailCats’ 33-year-old designated hitter, stole three bases and had a 104-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio during the regular season.
Friday, though, Guerrero was a perfect fit, and the Wingnuts’ mental mistakes allowed him to be. Guerrero had three hits and drove in two runs, including the go-ahead run in the eighth inning that led to a 7-6 Gary win over Wichita in Game 3 of the American Association Championship Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
“Realistically, it’s not how you do in the regular season, it’s how you do in the playoffs and (Guerrero) really stepped up big-time,” Gary left fielder Adam Klein said. “He’s really stepped up for us in the playoffs. I’m sure he’s going to remember, in his career, not how he did in the 2013 regular season but how he did in the playoffs to help his team, hopefully, win a championship.”
Guerrero, who batted .233 during the regular season, was the beneficiary of Klein’s reaching base five times from the leadoff spot. He had three singles, a double and a walk and ignited the Gary eighth with an infield single, matched by Mike Massaro to put Guerrero in a familiar RBI situation.
On the first pitch from Wingnuts reliever Justin Klipp, Guerrero lined a single to center field that appeared to be hit too hard for Klein to score, since Brent Clevlen fielded it just as Klein reached third base.
Klein ran through a stop sign from third base coach Bobby Segal and the throw from Clevlen reached catcher Johnny Bowden in the air and beat Klein by a significant distance. But as he was preparing to tag Klein for an inning-ending out, Bowden dropped the ball and Klein scored the difference-making run.
“Right when the ball was hit, I told myself, ‘There’s no stopping, I’ve got to go,’” Klein said. “I was quite surprised (to be held up). With a runner on second base, you’re thinking score all the way. I got a good secondary lead and felt like we could roll the dice in that situation. I was going too hard to stop.”
A half-inning earlier, it was nearly Bowden who made the ultimate difference. After Abel Nieves’ two-run single tied the score and added more drama to an intense, eventful seventh inning, Bowden pinch-hit for left-handed-hitting catcher Cole Armstrong against lefty pitcher Esteven Uriegas with runners on first and third.
Bowden hit a screaming line drive to center, but Nick Liles barely had to move to corral it. Gary, seemingly, had lost momentum after failing to protect the 6-3 lead it built with a three-run seventh.
“The guy is coming on him,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “It’s just unfortunate, the ball hit him right in the glove. Klein went all the way around him right there and dove for the plate. Just another unfortunate incident. A lot of crazy things in that game and a lot of mental mistakes on our side.”
Like Guerrero’s game-winning single, Gary’s big seventh inning was also aided by a Wingnuts mistake. This time it came from Nieves, who atoned for it with his tying single in the bottom half of the inning after fouling off three consecutive 2-2 pitches.
After Klein’s leadoff double, Massaro attempted a sacrifice bunt that pitcher Anthony Capra fielded the ball to the third-base side of the mound and had an easy play at third to retire Klein. But Nieves, believing the play was a force-out, never tagged Klein, and his throw to first was late, too. Nieves declined comment after the game.
Gary turned first-and-third with no outs into a trifecta of runs, getting RBI singles from Guerrero and Ryan Babineau, and a Reid Fronk sacrifice fly.
“We’re all going to make mistakes, it’s the mental mistakes that drive me crazy like that right there,” Hooper said. “With nobody out, the guy just hit a double – that’s just not being in the game right there. Learn from it.”
Probably understandably, the loss had a significant effect on the Wingnuts. Several players lingered in the dugout afterward before walking with slumped expressions to the clubhouse. It almost appeared that Wichita had lost the series, and it’s a mentality Hooper wants to break before Saturday’s Game 4.
“We’ll go in and we’ll talk about it, just remind them that there’s no time to sulk right now,” Hooper said. “Too bad, though. Boy, did we shoot ourselves in the foot tonight. That’s a tough one. We should have had that game wrapped up, but we shot ourselves in the foot numerous times.”
|Klein lf||4||4||4||0||Khoury ss||3||0||1||0|
|Massaro rf||5||1||1||0||Kahaullio 2b||5||1||2||0|
|Guerrero dh||5||2||3||2||Rodriguez dh||2||2||1||0|
|Babineau c||3||0||1||1||Ziegler 1b||4||2||1||0|
|Fronk 1b||3||0||1||3||Clevlen cf||5||1||3||1|
|Mitchell ss||0||0||0||0||Nieves 3b||4||0||3||5|
|Kolb 3b||4||0||1||1||Armstrong c||3||0||0||0|
|Liles cf||2||0||0||0||Bowden ph-c||1||0||0||0|
|Mrtinz ph-cf||2||0||0||0||Amberson rf||4||0||0||0|
|Brcktt 2b-ss||4||0||1||0||McDonald lf||4||0||0||0|
|Gary||102||000||310||—||7 12 0|
|Wichita||010||200||300||—||6 11 0|
DP – Gary 2, Wichita 2. LOB— Gary 9, Wichita 8. 2B — Klein (3). 3B – Clevlen (3). SF – Fronk (1). Kolb. SB – Klein (1), Massaro (2), Guerrero (2). CS – Khoury (1), Kahaulelio (1).
|Uriegas W, 1-0||1/3||0||0||0||0||0|
|Klipp L, 0-1||2 2/3||3||1||1||0||1|
HB – Khoury by Spottiswood (1). PB – Armstrong. Umpires—Home, Joe Pascucci; first, Joe Stegner; second, Art Thigpen; third, Pat McLaughlin.
T — 3:07. A — 1,918.