C.J. Ziegler had never hit a walkoff home run before, so when the Wingnuts first baseman connected in the bottom of the 10th inning to give Wichita a 5-4 win over Grand Prairie, he wasn’t quite sure how to react.
Fortunately for Ziegler, the celebration was already choreographed for him by teammate John Rodriguez. When discussing the possibility of a game-ending home run with other hitters, Rodriguez suggested they execute the "Prince Fielder."
The routine consists of the home run hitter jumping on home plate upon his arrival with the winning run as the teammates surrounding him fall in a heap to the ground as if hit by an explosive device.
It’s the kind of hoopla that couldn’t be organized and carried out by a team without superior chemistry, which the Wingnuts credit for franchise-record 10-game winning streak. At 12-3, Wichita has the best record in the American Association.
"I said it yesterday, if we hit a walkoff home run, whoever hits it is going to do the Prince Fielder," Rodriguez said. "It happened to be Z, which is kind of ironic because he’s the biggest one on our team. It looked real good."
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Ziegler, who is six inches taller but 30 pounds lighter than Fielder, the Detroit Tigers fist baseman, guessed that Fielder’s jumps rattled the ground more than his.
Fielder’s surely haven’t been delivered with more jubilation, as Ziegler prepared for his acrobatics by pointing to his teammates and yelling in excitement as he rounded second base. The Wingnuts have won the last two games in dramatic fashion, as Ryan Khoury’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth gave them a 6-5 win on Friday.
Ziegler, signed to give Wichita a power threat, had one homer entering Saturday and was 0 for 4 before his heroics. With two outs, he took a 1-1 pitch just beyond the glove of David Thomas, who jumped at the wall but was unable to make a game-saving catch.
"Me and (Rodriguez) were talking about it earlier," Ziegler said. "When something like that comes up, you’ve just got to enjoy the moment. When you wake up tomorrow, it’s a new day and you’ve got to get back at it again. But you enjoy it while you can."
The Wingnuts fell behind Grand Prairie for the second straight night and tied it 1-1, 3-3 and 4-4, getting their fourth run in unearned fashion after Jake Kahaulelio reached on a one-out error in the seventh.
Wichita was relentless in its pursuit of the AirHogs, twice scoring tying runs to tie it in the half-inning after Grand Prairie took the lead.
The top two hitters in the Wingnuts’ lineup scored their first four runs thanks to two RBIs apiece by Rodriguez and Juan Richardson. Rodriguez drove in the tying run in the seventh with his fourth single.
"That’s the thing about this team," Rodriguez said. "We go through adversity and we figure it out. Someway, somehow, we go out there and we figure it out."
After a shaky start, Wichita’s bullpen has fortified to become an important part of the winning streak and of Saturday’s win.
Three relievers combined to hold Grand Prairie hitless over three innings, and left-hander Nick Walters carved up the Air Hogs’ lefty-heavy lineup with his array of off-speed pitches.
As strong as the bullpen and the timely hitting have been, the Wingnuts’ cohesion seems to be just as important to the streak.
The togetherness and the winning are likely responsible for each other, but the show at the plate after Saturday’s win left little doubt that Wichita players are pulling for their teammates.
"Definitely special," Rodriguez said. "Just to be a part of the Wichita Wingnuts and just to be a part of the fantastic chemistry with this group of guys, it makes it even better."
|Simon cf||4||1||1||0||Khoury ss||4||2||1||0|
|Thomas lf||5||0||0||0||Kahaulelio 2b||5||2||2||0|
|Lockwood 1b||4||0||0||1||Rodriguez dh||5||0||4||2|
|Rodriguez dh||4||0||0||0||Richardson 3b||4||0||1||2|
|Porter 3b, rf||4||0||1||0||Einertson cf||5||0||0||0|
|Myrow 2b, 3b||3||1||1||0||Ziegler 1b||5||1||1||1|
|Chavez c||4||2||2||2||Peralta rf||4||0||0||0|
|Hunt 2b||3||0||0||0||Freeman c||4||0||2||0|
|Held rf||0||0||0||0||Conroy lf||4||0||0||0|
E—Myrow (3), Hunt (2). LOB—Grand Prairie 5, Wichita 8. DP—Grand Prairie 1. 2B—Simon (3), Porter (2), Chavez (5), Freeman (3). HR—Chavez (1), Ziegler (2). SF—Richardson. CS—Nishimoto.
|Bailey L,0-3||1 2/3||1||1||1||0||0|
WP — Miramontes. PB — Freeman. Umpires — home, Hicks; first, Hoffman; second, Thigpen. T — 2:54. A — 3,704.