The story of the Wingnuts' season played out over nine innings Sunday — they were sluggish at the beginning, resilient in the middle.
No ending has been written on the team's 2010 campaign, but if it happens like it did Sunday, when Wichita scored two runs to take the lead then added an important insurance run in the eighth before holding on to a 6-5 win, the ending will come later than once expected because the Wingnuts will be headed for the postseason.
The win brought the Wingnuts to within a game of Sioux Falls for the second-half lead in the American Association North. Wichita can tie the Pheasants with a win tonight at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, after which both teams will have 13 regular-season games remaining.
Jorge Cortes provided the big hit, a two-run double with two outs and two strikes in the seventh, which gave Wichita a 5-4 lead.
"I love it," Cortes said. "That's why we play. It's fun and it's good to get a hit, especially when the team wins. That's a good feeling. Everybody wants to do that."
The Wingnuts scored in the first on an RBI single by Carlos Rivera. Wichita starting pitcher Gabe Medina labored early, and his inconsistent command caught up with him in the third, when he allowed three hits and walked in the second of two Sioux Falls runs in the inning.
Medina struck out the side in the second and third innings but never found a rhythm. After a leadoff double in the fourth, Gus Milner scored when Wingnuts second baseman Cesar Suarez dropped the ball at first after a sacrifice bunt. Medina allowed an RBI single to Tim Hutting that made it 4-1 later in the fourth.
The Wingnuts got RBI singles from Jorge Delgado and Jeff Christy in the fourth to pull closer. They left two runners on in that inning and Suarez didn't score after hitting a one-out double in the fifth. One of the culprits was Cortes, who struck out after Suarez's double.
"I'm always confident," Cortes said. "No matter if I leave guys on base. I don't always come through. You can't get down."
In the seventh, the Wingnuts again had a one-out double, this time by Josh Horn. Ryan Patterson walked before Suarez popped out to first, giving Cortes another chance with two outs. He fell behind 0-2 and took a ball before hitting a hanging change-up from Ryan Grant into right field. Cortes made it to second when center fielder Reggie Abercrombie was slow to get the ball in.
"I was trying to hit anything that was close to the plate," Cortes said. "He had a really good fastball. With two strikes, you just have to react and try to get a good pitch. He threw me a good pitch right there and I got a good hit."
Josh Horn added another important two-out hit in the eighth after Delgado was picked off second base. Horn hit the first pitch from Andrew Pluta for a single that scored Michael Bell.
"I had a couple big at-bats today," Horn said. "I'm glad I could come through in one of those spots. That's how it goes, you've got to get those hits late in the game."
Since returning from an ankle injury on Aug. 9, Horn has nine hits in 18 at-bats.
"When you're there watching your teammates play, you want to get in there," Horn said. "I've been chomping at the bit for about three weeks now. I'm just trying to make the most of it."
Wichita's bullpen kept Sioux Falls silent and gave the offense time to rally. Medina exited after allowing a one-out double in the sixth, and Brandon Mathes retired the next two hitters in order.
Dustin Pease escaped a jam in the seventh, striking out two straight with runners on first and second. Cephas Howard recorded the final out of the eighth and earned the save even though he allowed a run in the ninth. Howard took over as closer when Justin Dowdy was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays organization earlier this month.
Wichita relievers combined for seven strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings. Howard struck out Beau Torbert and Brandon Sing, who have combined for 47 home runs, in the ninth.
"They're power hitters, I'm a power pitcher," Howard said. "Best man wins. I won tonight."