Today we have the rare scenario in which, after Game 5 of the American Association North Division Championship Series, BOTH teams will be going home. Lincoln could be going back to Lincoln to play Game 1 of the AA Championship Series against Pensacola, or it could be going home for the winter. Same with the Wingnuts, who are already home. But you get what I’m saying, as lame an attempt at an interesting tidbit as that really was.
Last night, and I have to start with this, I guess — I had two issues on the Wingnuts side. And this isn’t completely fair because I didn’t ask either of the offending parties why they handled the situations the way they did. First, Greg Porter swinging twice on 3-0 counts in the late innings with Wichita desperately needing baserunners. I understand that Porter doesn’t like to walk and he expected to be grooved a pitch in both of those 3-0 counts. But a walk can do damage, too. It can rattle a pitcher, force him to pitch to the next batter differently, create a hit-and-run situation and so on.
So I guess swinging on 3-0 counts isn’t really the issue, though it kind of is. It’s that Porter swung 3-0 and made two outs. One was a fairly long out, but it was still an out. If you swing 3-0, especially in a tie game in which your team has gathered NO offensive traction, you pretty much have to hit the ball out of the ballpark, or at least be standing somewhere in scoring position. Porter has the green light 3-0 and you’d obviously rather have your best hitter swinging than walking. But if the pitcher is willing to throw one in the zone on 3-0, he’ll probably do the same on 3-1 and you’ll get your chance to hit a ball hard then. Just my opinion.
Also, I don’t know if I would have let closer Justin Dowdy back out for a second inning after he retired Lincoln in order in the 10th. That’s just me, though — not telling manager Kevin Hooper how to do his job, because we all know he’s better at it than I could ever dream to be. My thinking, though, was that you brought him in for one inning to hold Lincoln so you could theoretically score and win in the bottom of the 10th.
When that didn’t happen, I think you just have to push the reset button on that game. Start it fresh. The Wingnuts still had a rested long reliever, Brad Davis, in the bullpen. Bring him in — and it’s unlikely he would have had to go more than two or three innings — and you still have everybody else in the bullpen ready to go tomorrow. I doubt Hooper would label Dowdy unavailable today, but how will Dowdy fare a day after throwing 27 pitches, facing seven batters and getting the loss? Take him out after his first inning, and 11 pitches, and you’d probably feel much better about bringing him in for a save tonight.
The other issue was Michael Thompson failing to get from second to third on an attempted sacrifice by Brenan Herrera. I won’t get on Thompson too much for that, because just a half-inning earlier a Lincoln runner was thrown out at third in the same situation and Thompson was probably a little wary about suffering the same fate. And he was probably watching the ball roll toward third, and not the eyes of pitcher Justin Knoff, which apparently gave away that he was going to first, not third, for the out. So yeah, it was a mistake, but with one out the Wingnuts still had two chances to drive in Thompson.
All of yesterday doesn’t matter at this point, though. Lincoln won 3-1 in 11 innings and that’s why I’m here at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium writing this blog. We have a rematch today, with pitchers Will Savage and Jarrett Gardner squaring off for the second time in the series. Savage was strong in Wichita’s Game 1 win, Gardner not so strong in the loss. But like everything that happened last night, that doesn’t matter. Anything can happen tonight. And quite frankly, I have no feel whatsoever for this game. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Wingnuts won, nor would I be surprised if Lincoln did. It’s a total crapshoot, in my opinion.
But both teams are confident and ready. I look forward to watching and writing about this game, and maybe I’ll see you all again on Tuesday for a new Game 1. Or maybe not.