When the Wingnuts lost several important players to injury and defection about three weeks ago, they were prepared for the worst. They were also prepared for the worst to end at some point.
Wichita is still spiraling downward, as evidenced by a deflating 11-7 loss to Fargo-Moorhead Thursday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. It was the first game of an eight-game homestand and particularly damaging because Fargo has become the class of the American Association, a title Wichita held before a radical personnel overhaul.
Starting pitcher Derek Blacksher was the primary culprit in Wichita’s latest defeat — its 15th in 19 games after a 30-9 start — but his outing was long over when reliever Matt Nevarez and pitching coach Luke Robertson were ejected by home plate umpire Tim McCaffrey.
Nevarez’s and Robertson’s reactions to borderline pitches that were called balls were part in the moment and part frustration reaching its apex.
"Frustrations have been building," Wingnuts designated hitter John Rodriguez said. "It’s probably at that lid already where anything is just going to set us off. Something like that, it happens, but someway, somehow we’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to turn it around. Right now we’re just in a funk both ways."
Blacksher appeared either unprepared for Fargo’s challenging lineup or unwilling to adjust after the RedHawks proved they were prepared for him. Blacksher’s offspeed pitches came with little deception, so he stuck with his fastball even when he probably shouldn’t have, such as when he worked into optimal pitchers’ counts.
After allowing three runs in the first, Blacksher survived the next two innings but displayed an inability to finish hitters with two strikes. In the third, he allowed a single on an 0-2 count and another on 1-2.
A double by Marcos Rodriguez on a 1-2 pitch led to a run in the fourth, and Nic Jackson’s homer on 0-2 started Fargo’s five-run fifth. Blacksher allowed five two-strike hits, along with a hit batter, and exited with two outs in the fifth to catcalls by Wichita fans.
"That’s the last guy I expected to go out there and do that for us, because he always keeps us in a ballgame," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "They ambushed him. They were ready to roll, ready to hit. You make a mistake and a good team is going to make you pay for it, and they obviously made him pay plenty tonight."
Blacksher allowed three home runs and was most hurt by the middle of Fargo’s order. The RedHawks’ 3 through 6 hitters combined for eight hits, four homers and eight RBIs. The five-run fifth included homers by Jackson and Ryan Delgado and permanently turned a game of which the Wingnuts briefly had control.
Wichita scored four in the third thanks to five straight hits and built a 6-4 lead in the fourth with an unearned run.
"They put up three in the first but we answered and we’re like, ’Yeah, we’re grooving right now,’ ” Hooper said. "But that’s when we need somebody on the mound to pick it up and do something. That’s what we did so well earlier in the season — pick each other up. We’ve got none of that going on right now."
The Wingnuts made it 9-7 in the sixth on Mike Conroy’s RBI triple with no outs. The three hitters following Conroy couldn’t get a ball through the infield, stranding him at third. Wichita had nine outs remaining, but the inability to score again in the sixth seemed fatal, as the Wingnuts didn’t collect another hit.
The Wingnuts led the Central Division by 9 1/2 games but the lead is down to 2 1/2 over Kansas City. Fargo has won 15 of its last 16 and 27 of 32, so gaining ground during the next three games could prove difficult.
"I think that comes with experience," Rodriguez said. "Young guys might feel like nothing is going right, and more experienced guys just feel like that’s just another situation we have to battle through. Just keep going, keep fighting and find a way. We have to find a way, because we could easily lose this lead."
|Penprase ss||5||1||1||0||Khoury ss||5||1||1||0|
|Sosnoskie rf||5||1||1||0||McDonald lf||5||0||0||0|
|Jackson cf||5||1||2||1||J.Rodrigz dh||4||1||2||2|
|Campbell 3b||5||3||4||3||Perez 2b||5||1||2||0|
|Gaston lf||3||2||1||2||Peralta rf||4||1||1||1|
|Delgado dh||5||1||1||3||Wagner 3b||3||1||1||2|
|M.Rodrigz 1b||4||2||3||0||Avila 1b||4||0||1||1|
|Jennings c||4||0||0||0||Mier c||4||1||2||0|
|Cota 2b||3||0||1||2||Conroy cf||4||1||1||1|
E — M.Rodriguez (8) LOB—Fargo 4, Wichita 6. DP—Wichita 1. 2B—Campbell (5), M. Rodriguez 2 (16), Khoury (8), J. Rodriguez (14), Peralta (18), Wagner (1), Mier (1). 3B—Conroy (4). HR—Jackson (11), Campbell (1), Gaston (7), Delgado (10). SB — Peprase (29). SF — Cota, J.Rodriguez.
HBP — by Blacksher (Gaston 2). Umpires — home, McCaffrey; first, Hoffman; second, Linton. T — 2:42. A — 2,509.