When it was mentioned to Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper that his team had two consecutive walkoff wins, Hooper thought simply two straight victories of any nature were noteworthy.
In fact, before Wednesday’s 7-6 win over Amarillo at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium that followed another exciting win on Tuesday, the Wingnuts hadn’t won two in a row in nearly a month — since a three-game winning streak from June 26-28.
Wichita has managed to add some drama to its journey back to winning baseball. The Wingnuts won on Jessie Mier’s two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the ninth on Wednesday, a night after Mike Conroy’s single beat Amarillo.
Considering the Wingnuts had winning streaks of 11 and eight games earlier in the season, a two-game surge is a relative blip. But it’s magnified for a team that had lost 18 of its previous 23 games and was losing its grip on first place in the American Association Central. The Wingnuts trailed after Harrison Kain’s solo homer in the top of the ninth.
“If I can say one thing about our group, even when we scuffled I never felt like we’ve given up,” Hooper said. “We always seem like we make a run at the end the boys are going to give me a heart attack. We need to do it early.”
The Wingnuts loaded the bases in the ninth against Amarillo’s shutdown closer Chase Johnson, who entered with a 1.80 ERA. After Mike Conroy struck out to start the half-inning, John Rodriguez reached on an error and, two batters later, David Peralta singled.
Mark Wagner legged out an infield single to bring up Mier, whose brief Wingnuts tenure has been mostly highlighted by his defensive excellence at catcher, where his receiving and throwing abilities give the Wingnuts an advantage.
Mier’s two hits Tuesday, including an RBI double, raised his average to .308. But he entered Tuesday with two RBIs in 10 games, so he hadn’t yet made his mark at the plate.
“It’s good to see,” Hooper said. “I can tell from day one from a guys’ swing that he’s going to give himself a chance. Two huge hits for us tonight. I was comfortable when he stepped in the box, I really was, because he’s an experienced guy.”
Johnson threw strike one to Mier but, with the bases loaded, Mier was able to continue waiting for a fastball since a walk would have ended the game. He got one on the 0-1 pitch and lined it down the right field line.
David Pyles, playing deep to avoid doubles, didn’t get to it in time for Amarillo to have a play at the plate, and Peralta sprinted home behind John Rodriguez with the go-ahead run. Mier, who has Double-A experience in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, was dog piled by his teammates — it was the second straight nine the Wingnuts created such a scene.
“That’s actually what I was trying to do, was stay relaxed,” Mier said. “Especially with the crowd (of 5,012) going crazy, that was my main focus, to stay relaxed and not try to do too much.”
The Wingnuts trailed 4-0 when Amarillo ace Chuck Lofgren exited the game with an apparent ankle injury suffered when he raced to cover first base on a Conroy grounder in the third. Wichita was stifled at the time by Lofgren but had more success against Trent Lare, who allowed four runs in three innings.
Lare’s appearance negatively effected the Sox in another way — with a suspension to catcher Mitch Abeita adding to Amarillo’s long list of unavailable players, Amarillo pitchers had to hit for themselves on Tuesday.
Lofgren often serves as the team’s designated hitter, but after he left the final three spots in Amarillo’s order were filled by two non-hitting pitchers and and recently activated hitting coach Jerry Verastegui. Without Lofgren, those three spots combined to go 1 for 11 with eight strikeouts.
The Wingnuts’ struggles to beat such a depleted opponent may serve as a caution to hold off on assurances of their progress, but two dramatic wins in two nights — or two wins of any kind in two nights — are signs of forward movement they haven’t enjoyed in a while.
“They don’t have anything to lose, and that’s how we need to play, nice and loose,” Hooper said. “We don’t have anything to lose, either. We’re still in first place, it’s no secret. Just continue to roll, have a good time and continue to play the game the right way.”
|Kain cf||4||2||1||1||Khoury ss||5||1||1||0|
|Rau ss||5||1||1||0||Conroy cf||4||1||2||0|
|Buschini 2b||3||2||1||1||Rodriguez dh||5||2||2||1|
|Alberts lf||3||0||1||1||Perez 2b||3||1||0||0|
|Goodro c||2||1||1||0||Peralta rf||5||1||1||0|
|Pyles rf||4||0||1||2||Wagner 1b||4||1||3||1|
|Lofgren p||1||0||1||1||Mier c||5||0||2||3|
|Littleton p||1||0||0||0||Carrillo 3b||3||0||1||0|
|Verastegui 3b||4||0||1||0||McDonald lf||4||0||1||0|
|Amarillo||013||010||001||—||6 8 2|
|Wichita||003||011||002||—||7 13 1|
E— Rau (13), Pyles (1), Hinson (1). LOB— Amarillo 6, Wichita 10. DP— Amarillo 2. 2B— Buschini (9), Goodro (5), Lofgren (5), Khoury (10), Wagner (3), Mier (2). HR — Kain (2). HBP — Conroy (9) by Lofgren. SB — Conroy (15). CS — Goodro (1). SF — Alberts (3)
|Johnson L, 2-1||2/3||3||2||0||0||1|
|Walters W, 1-1||2||1||1||1||0||2|
WP — Hinson (7). PB — Goodro. HBP — Conroy by Lofgren (2).
Umpires — home, Nick Gonzales; first, Kurt Brannin; third, Mo Hassan. T — 2:49. A — 5,012.