The Wingnuts are developing a history of delivering their flattest performances when it matters most. It happened in the American Association playoffs last season, when Wichita lost the deciding fifth game to Lincoln at home in a listless performance.
It happened again Friday, when the Wingnuts were beaten by El Paso, the league’s worst team, 10-4 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The Wingnuts still have hope for a postseason berth, but the remote chances turned nearly impossible as Sioux Falls beat St. Paul to take a two-game lead over Wichita in the North Division second-half standings.
The Wingnuts need to beat El Paso today and Sunday and hope Sioux Falls drops back-toback games at home, which the Pheasants haven’t done all season. If Sioux Falls and Wichita finish the second half tied, the Wingnuts get a playoff berth. That’s the only remaining hope. The Wingnuts were eliminated from the wild-card race on Friday.
“If you’re going to be a playoff team, you’ve got to find ways to win however you can,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “We didn’t set the tone real good tonight. I’m not going to sit here and pout about it and all that. I’m a bigger man than that. It is what it is. It’s too bad, though, for all of us who have worked hard to turn things around.”
Friday’s loss was similar to the playoffs defeat last season in that the Wingnuts fell behind early and had several chances to rally only to fall short each time. Until it didn’t matter, anyway , as the Wingnuts scored two in the seventh to make it 7-3. In the eighth, Ryan Patterson hit a long fly ball down the left field line, but the potential three-run homer, which would have brought the Wingnuts to within a run, was called foul. Patterson fouled off two more two-strike pitches before flying out to center field.
“It’s foul,” Hooper said. “I thought it was going to hit the pole. With Patty coming up, I just had a good feeling. For it to be foul by so littleæ.æ.æ. and that’s a tough call for an umpire. It was close. It was real close, but it was definitely foul. You never know, with a home plate umpire and his view, he could have called that fair or foul.”
Even though El Paso has the worst ERA and fielding percentage in the league, the Diablos are among the leaders in runs scored. They do most of their damage in the thin air of their home stadium, but they possibly spoiled the Wingnuts’ season Friday by taking advantage of pitching and defensive mistakes.
Starting pitcher Sean Teague, whose last home start was statistically saved by poor defense that produced two unearned runs, caused most of his own problems Friday.
Leadoff hitter Jeff Vincent gave Teague the most trouble. Vincent homered to lead off the game, just his second of the year, and walked to set up a two-run triple by Arnoldo Ponce. In the fourth. Vincent drove home Jeff Hulett, who Teague walked.
“It all started with tonight, and the pieces weren’t together tonight,” Hooper said. “A lot of bad stuff happened, and it was ugly there for a while. You play the game to get to these situations and put yourself in this situation, it’s just a shame that this is the first game of a three-game set and we started off this way.”
The Wingnuts stranded 12 runners, wasting a leadoff hit or walk three times.
“It’s tough to win ballgames like that,” Hooper said. “We had some chances, but when you walk eight guys and hit a guy, it’s ugly. It’s tough. There’s not a lot to say. That’s tough, because everybody knew what was at stake and what we had to do.”
Now, the Wingnuts need plenty of help to reach the postseason. If Sioux Falls wins the second half, the other playoff spot goes to the North team with the second-best overall record.