Laredo and the Wingnuts will get a final chance to make a pre-playoffs statement in Monday’s season finale, and perhaps to prepare a more tame environment following Wichita’s 17-14 victory Sunday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Laredo manager Pete Incaviglia engaged with fans from the first-base dugout during the first inning, and again in the ninth from near Laredo’s clubhouse, where he was banished after a fourth-inning ejection for arguing balls and strikes.
In the third, Wingnuts reliever Daniel Bennett hit Nick Van Stratten with an off-speed pitch, prompting a warning to both sides by home-plate umpire Mayhue Edwards. The consequence to that action came in the ninth, when Dan Sattler hit Nick Van Stratten and was immediately ejected by Edwards.
Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper was automatically ejected because of the previous warning, and infielder Taylor Oldham recorded the final three outs on the mound.
“We’re not going to hit a guy on purpose,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “(The count) is 3-0. Just an unfortunate situation we got ourselves into, but (Oldham) came in and finished the job.”
There was a playing-out-the-string aspect to Sunday’s game, as the teams combined for eight errors and an innumerable amount of ineffective pitching on the season’s penultimate day.
There were also shades of two teams lending more emotional importance toward a game that offered little actual significance. The teams traded leads and multi-run innings for most of the afternoon, but Wichita’s five-run seventh made the difference – barely.
The Wingnuts and Laredo begin a best-of-five first-round playoff series Wednesday in Laredo. That possibility has been in play for months as the teams established superiority in the South Division, and the reality has been assured for weeks as the teams raced toward two of the league’s three best records.
“I think that was an ugly game from both sides, from the beginning,” Hooper said. “They get two, we get five, then we give up seven. What a crazy game. Nobody played good defense. The wind was howling, and that caused some issues. It’s always a tough spot when your starter doesn’t make it through the second inning.”
The Wingnuts sent an entire game’s worth of batters to the plate in three innings, batting around in the first, fourth and seventh and scoring five runs in all three.
Those dynamic innings all happened while the Wingnuts were chasing the lead.
They allowed two runs in the top of the first before taking a 5-2 lead during a half-inning that encapsulated the day’s sloppiness and the offensive barrage that was in store – it included a three-run homer by David Espinosa, a hit batter, and a throwing error.
Another big Wingnuts inning was hastened by Laredo scoring seven in the top of the second against Frank Del Valle, the Wichita left-hander who didn’t survive the inning. After scoring one in the third, the Wingnuts grabbed five more in the fourth, another microcosm of the game at large.
The Wingnuts tallied five hits in the fourth but were aided by two errors that helped them take an 11-9 lead. But they weren’t done chasing, in part because of their own haphazard defense that Laredo used to go ahead 13-11 in the top of the seventh.
Ultimately, though, the Wingnuts could rely more on their offense and Laredo’s poor fielding than the possibility of either of those factors abandoning them. Another Laredo error, a wild pitch, and Brent Dean’s two-run homer led to a five-run seventh.
Wichita got insurance in the eighth thanks to another Lemurs error. The Wingnuts’ 16 hits outweighed the 14 by Laredo, as well as failures in other areas, and Wichita improved to 12-4 this season against its opening-round opponent.
“I love it on our side of things offensively,” Hooper said. “…It’s another situation, hot day, where you can just fold, and we don’t do that. We never do that. It’s good to see. We’ve done that a lot this year, where we keep grinding it out, keep competing, and it’s just a matter of time before we take the lead.”
Laredo at Wingnuts
When: 5:05 p.m. Monday
Where: Lawrence-Dumont Stadium
Records: Laredo 58-41, Wingnuts 72-27
Pitchers: Laredo, TBA; Wingnuts, RH Celson Polanco (0-0, 4.26 ERA)
Radio: KWME, 92.7-FM