As the Wingnuts were completing a comeback 6-5 win over Amarillo on Tuesday night, the team closest to them in the American Association Central was finishing off a rally of its own.
So while Wichita might not have improved its 1 1/2 game lead over Kansas City, Tuesday’s win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was the kind that might help the Wingnuts do so in the near future.
Steve Carrillo scored on a hard groundball by Mike Conroy that deflected to second baseman Adam Buschini. The throw home beat Carrillo, but on a headfirst slide his fingertips slid past the glove of Mitch Abeita for the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
The Wingnuts had lost 18 of their previous 23 games and hadn’t been given reason to celebrate like they did when they mobbed Carrillo and Conroy after Tuesday’s decisive play. An emotional victory doesn’t guarantee a winning streak, but it may help pull Wichita from its recent mental malaise.
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“Tomorrow is a new day and we start fresh,” Hooper said. “But that was exciting. We needed that after what we’ve been going through. Hopefully it can get the guys excited a little bit.”
Carrillo had an adventurous ninth inning on the bases, as he got from home to home without the ball ever leaving the infield. He reached when Tyler Goodro bobbled a throw to first baseafter a third strike in the dirt and advanced to second on Jared McDonald’s sacrifice bunt.
Two batters later, Conroy fell behind in the count 0-2 before fouling two pitches off and hitting a hard grounder up the middle that deflected off pitcher Chad Povich to Buschini. With the ball behind him, Carrillo couldn’t see the play and followed Hooper’s orders by sprinting home, where his hand just beat the tag.
“Hoop was waving me around,” Carrillo said. “There’s no stopping there, we want that win. Luckily I was safe there. I was safe — got my hand in there.
“I was going on the swing, so as soon as he hit that ball I was going no matter what. I didn’t know if the ball got through — I took a peek and that’s when (on-deck batter John Rodriguez) was saying, ‘Slide, slide.’ So I did a little hook slide and got in there.”
As during much of their recent losing stretch, the Wingnuts were falling victim to their own mistakes more than the superior play of their opponent. Conroy gave Wichita a 3-2 lead with a three-run homer in the third, but Wichita gave back the advantage in the fourth when starting pitcher Derek Blacksher was unable to protect it.
But even though Blacksher never completely settled, he kept Amarillo at five runs before coming out with one out in the seventh. The Wingnuts, who made it 5-4 on Jared McDonald’s RBI bunt single in the fourth, tied it on John Rodriguez’s single in the seventh. Andrew Aizenstadt and Jared Simon combined to pitch 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.
“(Blacksher) wasn’t real crisp again tonight,” Hooper said. “I got on him. Sometimes you’ve got to get in a guy’s tail because he’s better than that. He needs to start showing that he’s better than that. He’s been with us for quite a while and he’s been our guy for quite a while, and he needs to show that. He needs to show why he is our guy because he’s a big-game pitcher.”
Amarillo, like the Wingnuts, is trying to piece together a roster after a recent depletion due to injury; Wichita lost three to the Mexican League and others to the disabled list.
A win over a shorthanded opponent might have been more meaningful Tuesday than it was three weeks ago, when Wichita still had a big lead in the Central. But Tuesday’s triumph might have helped add meaning to the Wingnuts’ future games and propelled them to an improved emotional state.
“Early on we had that edge about us,” Hooper said. “We had a little bit of swagger, we were confident. You could tell we were confident every night and we were going to take care of business out there. We need to get that back. Even with this group, we’ve got the guys here that can do it.”
|Kain cf||5||1||2||1||Khoury ss||5||2||2||0|
|Rau ss||5||1||2||0||Conroy cf||5||1||2||4|
|Buschini 2b||4||0||1||0||Rodriguez dh||4||0||2||1|
|Alberts lf||5||0||0||0||Perez 2b||4||0||1||0|
|Abeita c||4||1||3||2||Peralta rf||4||0||2||0|
|Lofgren dh||4||1||2||1||Wagner 1b||4||1||1||0|
|Goodro 1b||5||0||0||0||Mier c||4||0||1||0|
|Pyles rf||4||1||2||1||Carrillo 3b||3||2||0||0|
|Verastegui 3b||3||0||1||0||McDonald lf||3||0||1||1|
|Amarillo||020||300||000||—||5 13 1|
|Wichita||003||100||101||—||6 12 1|
E— Goodro (1), Carrillo (5). LOB— Amarillo 11, Wichita 6. DP— Amarillo 1. 2B— Rau (8), Pyles (1), Khoury (9), Rodriguez (15), Perez (7). 3B — Abeita (2), Lofgren (2). HR — Conroy (2). HBP — Carrillo (1) by Mitchell. S — Verastegui , McDonald. SB — Mier (1), McDonald (10). CS — Peralta (5).
|Povich L, 3-1||2||2||1||0||0||2|
|Simon W, 2-4||1||0||0||0||0||1|
HBP — Carrillo by Mitchell (2).
Umpires — home, Mo Hassan; first, Nick Gonzales; third, Kurt Brannin. T — 2:54. A — 2,523.