Jake Kahaulelio is a few at-bats away from holding a commanding lead in the American Association batting race, so on Tuesday he took aim at affecting another statistical leaderboard.
With John Rodriguez, who is within range of the league RBI lead, on deck, Kahaulelio hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth to give the Wingnuts a 5-4 win over El Paso at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Not that Rodriguez was complaining. Wichita clinched the Central Division on Monday and a major factor for its success has been their closeness and the sacrifice of personal achievement for team gains.
But with five games remaining in the regular season, several Wignuts are chasing the league lead in statistical categories.
"Our team is just a bunch of goofballs," Kahaulelio said. "On the field we take care of our business, but off the field we’re completely different people. It’s just about having fun. If we lose, we show up the next day and don’t let it change our attitude."
Kahaulelio needs 270 plate appearances to qualify for the batting title and is 13 short with five games to go. Kahaulelio, in 54 games, is batting .372, 19 points ahead of the next-closest competitor. He had a pair of doubles Tuesday, the second leading to a run Wichita needed when El Paso scored two to tie it 4-4 in the ninth.
Kahaulelio and C.J. Ziegler missed more than a month when they left the Wingnuts for the Mexican League, but they can help erase the distress the team endured while they were away by claiming individual accomplishments that served the team.
Ziegler’s home run Tuesday was his 18th, two behind league leader Ole Sheldon, the St. Paul first baseman whose power has faded over the last month. Ziegler is due for a game off in the coming days since the Wingnuts clinched a playoff berth, but Kahaulelio feels he owes it to his teammates to stay in the lineup.
"I don’t want to take off because I left these guys behind," Kahaulelio said. "I still care what our record is. Even though we’re in the playoffs, it’s good to get a roll on, get back in the groove. That’s why I want to be in there every day and still compete, because if you stop playing hard, you might miss out in the playoffs."
Josh Lowey won his league-record 15th game as Wichita sewed up a postseason spot on Monday, and Wichita’s personal accomplishments may not stop there. In addition to to Kahaulelio and Ziegler’s pursuits, Rodriguez can win the RBI crown with a strong final five days.
Rodriguez has 78 RBIs even though he didn’t get a chance for more at the end of Tuesday’s game. The Wingnuts are two wins away from clinching homefield in the first round of the playoffs against either Laredo or Grand Prairie, but manager Kevin Hooper says the attempts for benchmark statistics can be healthy for a team with collective goals.
"Personal goals and personal accomplishments, that means a lot to the guys," Hooper said. "It always meant a lot to me. Any time you have an opportunity to do that — that opportunity may never come again. ... These guys are just going to keep fighting."
|Gonzalez ss||4||1||2||0||Khoury ss||4||1||1||0|
|Fronk 3b||3||0||0||0||Kahaulelio 2b||3||2||2||1|
|Einertson cf||3||0||0||1||Rodriguez dh||3||0||0||0|
|Dotel rf||3||1||1||0||Ziegler 1b||4||1||1||3|
|Acey 1b||4||2||2||1||Peralta rf||4||0||0||1|
|Nelson 2b||4||0||0||0||Batista 3b||4||0||0||0|
|Chavez c||3||0||0||1||McDonald lf||4||1||2||0|
|Hodsdon dh||3||0||1||0||Moroika c||3||0||1||0|
|Muse lf||4||0||1||1||Stanley cf||3||0||1||0|
One out when winning run scored.
LOB— El Paso 5, Wichita 7. DP— Wichtia 1. 2B— Acey (12), Kahaulelio 2 (19). 3B — Acey (2). HR — Ziegler (18). SF — Einertson, Chavez, Kahaulelio. S — Moroika. SB — Gonzalez 2 (38).
|Harper L,4-2||1 2/3||2||2||2||2||0|
HBP — by Harper (Rodriguez). WP — Nelson 2. Umpires — home, Justin Post; first, Poe Pascucci; third, Trent Delmont. T —2:32. A — NA.