The boos of more than 6,000 fans created an enclave of displeasure at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on Tuesday night, but it was of little consolation to the Wingnuts that one of the biggest crowds of the season had someone else to blame for their latest defeat.
The scapegoat in Fort Worth's 3-2 win, at least according to the vocal majority, was first base umpire Justin Post. His four close calls all went against the home team, and he ejected Wingnuts first baseman Jorge Delgado and first base coach Brian Rose in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The real culprits were most likely the fastball grooved by Eric Gilliland to Trent Lockwood that led to the go-ahead RBI in the eighth, and a lack of urgency on a potential double play groundball that helped the Cats score in the seventh.
The Wingnuts fell out of first place in the American Association Central and have lost 11 of their last 16 games. They failed to right themselves after dropping three of four at Amarillo over the weekend.
"It was frustrating, especially with the way we've been playing and to add in what went on out there (the ejections) on top of it. It was frustrating overall," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "Amarillo takes three of four from us and this place is packed tonight. You'd think the guys would be excited."
Many of the previous losses had been unfair to the Wingnuts' hitters, who collectively rank among the league leaders in runs, on-base percentage and batting average but haven't always been able to produce enough to save a porous pitching staff.
Tuesday, injustice was handed to Wichita starting pitcher Justin Murray, who gave the Wingnuts one of their best outings of 2011 but took a loss because the offense had a rare off night.
Murray, seemingly becoming an integral part of Wichita's rotation after two consecutive strong starts at home, allowed one hit before a leadoff double in the fifth by Marcos Rodriguez, who scored two batters later on a groundout.
While not featuring an overpowering repertoire, Murray's sinking fastball helps him out of jams by creating double plays, of which the Wingnuts turned two on Tuesday.
"He's been really good his last two outings at home," Hooper said. "We've got to win that ballgame for him pitching his tail off, the way we've struggled pitching and been so good offensively. It just didn't work out."
Murray created his own trouble with a leadoff walk in the seventh with the Wingnuts ahead 2-1. But he could have been out of the inning on a grounder to second baseman Jose Duran. But Duran was slow to make the turn and Derek Kinzler was safe at first. The next batter, Cory Morales, drove in the tying run.
"If we play defense we win the game," Hooper said.
Fort Worth leadoff hitter Brian Fryer reached on an error to start the eighth before Murray retired the next two batters, going over 100 pitches in the process.
Left-hander Eric Gilliland was summoned to face lefty Trent Lockwood, and after Lockwood swung poorly on an off-speed pitch, Gilliland threw a fastball, which Lockwood lined to left-center for a double that put the Cats ahead 3-2.
"It doesn't make sense, it doesn't make sense at all," Hooper said. "That's why we have Gilliland, is to come in and get lefties out. He's not going to get everybody out. But when a guy beats you on a cookie fastball, that's not going to work."
Hooper seems to have decided that the malaise the Wingnuts have fallen into after a hot start won't work, either. He's never shown himself afraid to swap personnel, and with the Wingnuts now looking up in the standings, it might be time for wholesale changes, at least to the pitching staff.
"I keep saying 'We've got to get better' and I'm ready to stop saying it," Hooper said. "Because we're not."
Fryer cf5100Horn ss4000
Metcalf 3b4010Patterson rf4110
Lockwood 1b3111Richardson 3b4010
Rodriguez rf3110Delgado 1b4000
Allen dh4030Workman dh4000
Kinzler 2b4001Bellorin c3110
Morales ss3011Conroy lf3010
Sauceda lf4000Duran 2b2010
Fort Worth000 010 110 — 3 Wichita000 110 000 — 2
E—Gulledge (7), Kinzler (3), Mackey (1), Horn (8), Delgado (7). DP—Wichita 2. LOB—Fort Worth 7, Wichita 4. 2B—Lockwood (13), Rodriguez (11), Patterson (14), Bellorin (9). SB—Fryer (11), Duran (7). S—Duran (1)
Mackey W, 4-1752213
DeBarr S, 2200001
Murray L, 2-27 2/353232
Umpires—Home, Joe Pascucci; First, Justin Post; Third, Travis Godec.