Wingnuts starting pitcher Nick Singleton knows opposing batters are trying to hit run-scoring fly balls with a runner on third base and less than two outs. They know he knows, and he knows they know he knows.
The successful player in those situations is the one who can stay a step ahead. Friday night, that was Singleton. He pitched out of two such jams and led the Wingnuts to a 6-1 win over St. Paul at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
"You just kind of have to look at the guy that's hitting," Singleton said. "I've pitched against these guys so many times this year, so I kind of know what pitches to throw to keep them from hitting the fly balls that they're looking for. It's all a matter of if I execute and if they don't hit it."
The Wingnuts were leading 4-1 in the top of the third when St. Paul second baseman Brandon Carter led off with a double, moving to third on a groundout.
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Cleanup hitter Jason Cooper was up next, and after getting ahead in the count 1-2, Singleton got Cooper to pop out to second, holding Carter at third. Edgard Clememte also popped to second, ending the half-inning.
Wichita had stretched its lead to 6-1 in the top of the fifth, when Carter hit a one-out triple. On an outside pitch, Ole Sheldon hit another weak fly ball to second, and Cooper grounded out.
Singleton has pitched against the Saints seven times this season, including five of his last seven starts. He owns a 3-1 record against them. For the season, he's 7-3 with a 2.29 ERA.
"You don't really change much start to start," Singleton said. "If you try to be somebody you're not, chances are you're not going to be successful. I stick with what I would normally do to each hitter. But every now and then you have to throw in something you never do, and do it a couple times in the same at-bat and have them go, 'What's that all about? He never does that.' "
Singleton and the Wingnuts fell behind after two pitches, as Josh Alley and Carter both hit first-pitch doubles in the first.
"They're not supposed to do that, it's against the rules, I thought," Singleton joked. "I thought they were supposed to take a pitch. Basically, both of those guys are leadoff guys. Leadoff guys normally take first pitch. I just tried to give it to them and maybe they'd hit it at somebody, but they found the area in the outfield where nobody was playing."
Whether that was a wake-up call for Singleton or not, it was the last run St. Paul got against him. He labored through the first three innings, but he eventually found success with his fastball.
Usually working in the upper 80s, Singleton occasionally ramped up to 93 mph and the Saints were consistently late on his fastball.
Though his early struggles kept him from extending his outing, Singleton was strong at the end, striking out the last two batters of the sixth on fastballs before exiting with one out in the seventh.
"I used my off-speed to set it up," Singleton said of his fastball. "I think, more than anything, my location was a little bit better tonight. My arm feels better at this time of the year every year."
Singleton only pitched without the lead in the first. After Joseph Spiers, playing in his first home game after being signed this week, led off the bottom of the first with a single, Ryan Patterson hit a two-run home run to left field.
It was the first of three two-run hits for the Wingnuts. Spiers, who had four hits and four stolen bases, drove in two with a single in the second, and Michael Bell had a two-run double down the left-field line in the fourth, scoring Spiers and Jorge Cortes.
The Wingnuts had a hit or a walk in every inning, but they didn't score after the fourth inning. It didn't matter.
"Beautiful thing," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "Get guys on, get them over, get them in. That's the game plan always. Another good night offensively, I thought. (St. Paul starter Jacob) Schmidt's gotten us before. He does a pretty good job. We got on him early."