Before Tuesday, the last time Derek Blacksher pitched at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, he earned a standing ovation as he helped the Wingnuts to a playoff victory in 2009.
While focusing on first catching first-place Gary-Southshore in the American Association Central, Blacksher's start in his return to Wichita must have had his teammates conjuring visions of the postseason.
Blacksher, acquired by the Wingnuts in a trade with Fort Worth on Sunday, made anything seem possible by pitching eight shutout innings in Wichita's 5-0 win over Shreveport-Bossier at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The dogged pursuit of Blacksher during the offseason and during most of this season paid off, as the right-hander beat a team that hit him hard less than a week before Tuesday's start.
"I'm going to worry about tomorrow, is what I'm going to worry about," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "But that was a good start. That's why we went and did what we did. He made us look good, that's for sure, and he's excited to be here."
Blacksher was the league's right-handed pitcher of the year and a standout on a 2009 staff that led the league in ERA and propelled the Wingnuts to their only playoff appearance to date. That season, Blacksher had 11 wins, and he dominated Lincoln to give Wichita a short-lived 2-1 series lead.
After a trying stint in Fort Worth saw Blacksher bring a 3-6 record and 4.55 ERA to Wichita, he once again showed he's capable of leading a staff into and during the playoffs.
Hooper, especially after blowout losses, is prone to talk about pitching setting the tone. That philosophy worked in reverse Tuesday, as Blacksher was welcomed back to the Wingnuts by a called strikeout to Mike Provencher before he essentially cruised through the next 23 batters.
"It feels great," Blacksher said. "For me personally, this is a much more comfortable atmosphere. I enjoy playing for Hooper and I enjoy playing here."
Even though Blacksher wasn't his best in Fort Worth, Hooper believed returning to the spot of his greatest success would motivate Blacksher to return to form. That belief led Hooper and Wingnuts brass to trade leading home-run hitter Ryan Patterson to get Blacksher.
"He's my type of guy," Hooper said. "He's everything I'm all about, no question. He wants the ball... he'd take the ball every other night if he could. He works — he's one of the hardest workers I've ever been around. He's here to help us win ballgames. Whenever he takes the mound, that's all he cares about."
Blacksher never faced more than four batters in any inning and only two Captains reached scoring position; one of those was called out after oversliding second base. Wichita turned three double plays.
"Even when I was playing against Wichita, I've seen some of the plays their defense made," Blacksher said. "It was unbelievable."
The Wingnuts backed up Blacksher with two runs in the first courtesy of Juan Richardson's eighth home run and second in three games. Mike Conroy and Richardson had RBI hits in the fourth and Josh Workman capped the scoring with a solo homer in the fifth.
Wichita has shutout Shreveport in two of the three games in the series, which concludes tonight.
"When we had trouble with the starting pitching thing, (Blacksher) was the first one to come to mind," Hooper said.
Prvnch 3b4010Duran dh4120
Perry cf3010Conroy lf5121
Sabatella dh3000Clevlen cf5120
Rodrigz 1b2010Richardson 3b4123
Peterson c3000Delgado 1b4010
Karr Jr. lf3000Workman rf4131
Marquez 2b3000Horn ss3000
Cowart rf2000Bellorin c3000
Frichter ss3000Fitzgerald 2b4010
Shreveport-Bossier000 000 000 — 0 Wichita200 210 00x — 5
DP—Wichita 3. LOB—Shreveport-Bossier 3, Wichita 10. 3B—Conroy (7). HR—Richardson (8), Workman (7).
Cunningham L, 2-76115513
Blacksher W, 4-6820036
HBP—By Cunningham (Horn), By Blacksher (Rodriguez), By Maj (Duran).
Umpires—Home, Nick Gonzales; First, Kurt Branin; Third, Lance Vaughn.