The Wingnuts led by three runs after six innings Wednesday night, then their game against Amarillo became completely unpredictable. The seventh inning is when the bullpens took over.
A reliever’s performance on any given day is basically impossible to project, since most of them work for one inning at a time, a small sample that typically doesn’t lend itself to the law of averages.
Over the final three innings Wednesday, Wichita’s and Amarillo’s bullpens followed that pattern of uncertainty, but the Sox made more key pitches in a 5-3 win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The Wingnuts left the bases loaded in the ninth, and stranded two in the seventh after losing the lead.
Manager Kevin Hooper cited the equally dicey prospect of hitting with runners in scoring position, a statistic that can fluctuate throughout a season, but quick turnarounds by Amarillo pitchers who appeared to be struggling were equal partners in Wichita’s failures.
“We gave that one away, no doubt,” Hooper said.
The positive side of the volatile nature of bullpens enabled the Wingnuts to escape the top of the seventh with their lead intact after allowing two runs. Daniel Bennett relieved starter Tim Brown with the bases loaded and no outs in a 3-1 game, and Bennett was beyond the threat in seven pitches.
One of those pitches resulted in a sacrifice fly, but Bennett, a right-hander whose low arm slot and deceptive pitch repertoire makes him particularly dangerous against right-handed batters, retired lefty Kevin Mahoney on a first-pitch foul out for the second out.
Bennett was through the inning three pitches later, having completed the bridge to eighth-inning setup man Patrick Mincey and energizing his teammates.
“One-run lead,” Hooper said. “Then, the next inning we had a chance to add on and we didn’t. Those (missed) runs are huge. Any time we can cross that plate is precious. Runs are precious, especially the way we pitch.”
Hitting in clutch situations in later innings can be difficult because a batter is usually facing a reliever for the first time.
The Wingnuts experienced that in the seventh, after leadoff hitter David Amberson reached on an error. Chris McClendon singled and was thrown out at second, but Wichita still had a runner on third base with one out and the top of the order due up.
After a Ryan Khoury walk, Carlo Testa flied to shallow center, not deep enough to score Amberson, and Jake Kahaulelio popped to second. The jam created by Amarillo reliever Adam Maxon over a three-batter span was escaped even more quickly.
“We still have to make things happen,” Testa said. “We have a lot of opportunities and we missed them, myself personally and a couple other guys. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
The situation worked in reverse in the top of the eighth. Amarillo had a runner on first base with two outs before Mincey surrendered three hits and a walk to the next four batters and Amarillo took a 5-3 lead.
“We have confidence in everyone coming out of our bullpen, especially Mincey in the eighth and (closer Matt) Nevarez in the ninth, that’s our go-to,” Testa said.
The Wingnuts loaded the bases with one out in the ninth after an error, a single, a sacrifice bunt and a walk, and Testa and Kahaulelio got a chance to make up for their earlier failures in the clutch.
The atonement, though, went to Erik Draxton, who got out of trouble by striking out Testa and getting Kahaulelio on a foul-out.
The day-to-day bullpen instability worked against the Wingnuts on Wednesday, but Hooper said the big-picture performance of his relievers, which has been strong, is more important.
“Those guys have their roles for a reason and they’re here for a reason,” Hooper said. “If you’re on the roster, you’ve got to be able to pitch, bottom line. We kept these guys for a reason, and we have confidence in them.”
|Perren lf||3||1||1||0||Khoury ss||3||0||0||0|
|Martin cf||5||1||1||0||Testa lf||4||0||0||0|
|Weik 1b||5||2||2||0||Kahaullo 2b||5||0||0||0|
|Patton rf||4||1||2||2||Clevlen cf||4||1||2||0|
|Nichols dh||3||0||1||0||Wise dh||4||1||1||0|
|Bellows 3b||3||0||1||2||McMurray c||3||0||0||1|
|Mahoney 2b||4||0||0||0||Whyte 1b||3||1||1||2|
|Farnham c||4||0||2||0||Amberson rf||4||0||1||0|
|Broad ss||3||0||0||0||McClndn 3b||2||0||1||0|
|Amarillo||000||000||230||—||5 10 1|
|Wichita||000||300||000||—||3 6 1|
E – Weik (2), McMurray (2). DP – Wichita 1. LOB — Amarillo 7, Wichita 9. 2B – Clevlen (17). HR – Whyte (2). SF – Bellows (1). S – Perren, McClendon. SB – Patton (3), Farnham (5), Khoury (16), McClendon (3). CS – McClendon (1).
|Maxon W, 1-0||1||1||0||0||1||0|
|Draxton S (6)||1||1||0||0||2||1|
WP – Larkins (3). Umpires — Home, Art Thigpen; 1B, Trent Delmont; 3B, Sam Burch.
T – 3:02.