The Wingnuts scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead over Gary SouthShore Sunday afternoon, then the offense had to take a short break.
It was short because Tim Brown retired the RailCats in the top of the sixth on five pitches, which allowed Wichita to maintain its momentum at the plate.
The Wingnuts added five more late-inning runs and won 8-3 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium a day after a franchise-worst 15-0 loss. Wichita took two of three games in the series and finished its second 2014 homestand with a 6-1 record.
“You always hear in baseball, shutdown innings,” Brown said. “The offense goes out there and puts them on the field for a while, you want to make it quick, get right back in there and make them go back (on the field) real quick. It was a very big inning.”
Brown pitched with the lead for most of his outing after Carlo Testa hit a solo home run in the bottom of the first. Gary tied it with a homer to lead off the fourth, then took a 2-1 lead on a double, single and squeeze bunt in the fifth.
The Wingnuts’ four total runs in the previous two games were limited to Friday’s eighth inning, but they reached multi-inning runs in the fifth and didn’t stop there.
David Amberson started the fifth with a leadoff double and scored, after a sacrifice bunt, on Ryan Khoury’s first of two RBI singles. The Wingnuts went ahead 3-2 with the help of a Gary error and a wild pitch.
“It’s always easier to pitch with the lead,” Brown said. “The bigger the lead, the better. The thing with this team, we’ve got the potential to put up a big inning at any point with our offense. If I just keep us in the game, I think good things will eventually happen.”
Wichita followed the fifth by getting three baserunners in the sixth but stranding all of them. In the seventh, Mike Hernandez delivered a two-out RBI single following Chris McMurray’s double-play grounder.
The Wingnuts stayed hot after the fifth in part because Brown made quick work of Gary in the sixth, using his ability to keep the ball down in the strike zone to record three groundball outs.
“He’s the perfect pitcher for (fast innings),” Amberson said. “He pitches to contact and he’s got good stuff to back it up. Everything is dropping.”
Brown also may have taken advantage of Gary’s eagnerness to regain the lead, because the normally patient Railcats took two pitches — both strikes – and suffered a fruitless trip through the middle of their order.
“In a tight game, you’re pretty much sticking with what works,” Brown said. “If you get a bigger lead, it’s even more of an attack mode to make them put it in play. But in a game this tight, you’re just sticking with what’s working and trying to get outs.”
Brown allowed a leadoff double in the seventh and left with one out and a runner on third. By that point, Wichita manager Kevin Hooper could exploit the matchups against Gary’s left-handed-heavy lineup.
Hooper summoned Alex Hinshaw, who got the final two outs on eight pitches, then helped the Wingnuts escape a jam he created by following two eighth-inning walks with two outs before Mike Zouzalik finished the inning.
The Wingnuts’ offense broke it open in the eighth with five runs, getting RBI singles from Khoury and Jake Kahaulelio before Brent Clevlen capped the inning with a two-run triple.
In its six wins on the homestand, the Wingnuts scored 18 of their 36 runs in the sixth inning or later with no at-bats in the ninth.
“Grind out (at-bats), try to get some circles,” Hooper said, referring to his symbol for a productive at-bat. “Quality plate appearances. …It’s been a lot of fun to see us finding ways to do it. This offense, compared to what we’ve had in the past, maybe isn’t as potent, but we’ve found a way to get it done.”