Three days ago, the Wingnuts were in the enviable position of being able to avoid scoreboard watching. They owned a two-game lead in the American Association Central and needed only to concern themselves with continuing to win.
Their eyes probably won't be able to avoid those out-of-town scores any longer. They lost for the second straight night to Amarillo, 3-2 in 10 innings Thursday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, and are tied with Gary Southshore for first in the division.
The Wingnuts have also lost their hold on Plan B, falling behind by a game to St. Paul in the race for the wild card. The Wingnuts have five games remaining, and at a point in the season when the manager shouldn't have to point out the significance, Kevin Hooper had to do just that Thursday.
"It's embarrassing. I'm embarrassed I even had to go in there," Hooper said. "It's just frustrating. Like I told them, if you don't want to show up and complain about how hot it is or that you're tired, at this time of year, that's weak."
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Thursday's game was marred by frequent failures in clutch situations from start to finish. Jimmy Mojica tripled to start the Wingnuts' first inning but was doubled off on a lineout.
In the 10th, Mike Conroy hit a one-out double to get the Wingnuts to the top of their lineup. But after Mojica reached on an infield single, groundouts by Josh Horn and Juan Richardson kept Wichita from tying it and keeping the inning alive for the heart of the lineup.
"Baseball is crazy," Conroy said. "Just because the top of the order is coming up doesn't mean anything. They give quality at-bats just like everyone else."
Conroy was the most frequent spark plug for the Wingnuts on Thursday, or at least he attempted to be. He hit a two-out triple in the third before Mojica was unable to drive him in and tripled again in the sixth.
That time Conroy scored on a Mojica hit. It appeared it could be the start of some offensive traction for the Wingnuts, as they scored on a two-out rally in the seventh to tie it 2-2.
Mitch Einertson doubled with two outs and scored two batters later on an Edwin Bellorin single. But Wichita was quiet in the eighth and ninth before failing to sustain their extra-innings rally.
Amarillo took advantage of its own 10th-inning double, which came by Tim Alberts against Jared Simon. The run scored on a slow grounder to Mojica at second that he bobbled as he tried to hurry a double play, but it was unlikely the Wingnuts would have been able to complete the play.
Wingnuts pitchers labored against an Amarillo lineup that forced them to throw more than 180 pitches, but Wichita frequently worked out of trouble.
The story was mostly the same for Amarillo pitchers. They had an easier time working through Wichita's lineup, facing four batters or fewer in seven innings, but they kept Wichita from putting together a prolonged rally.
"Today we really didn't get the bats going," Conroy said. "When you have two runs on 10 hits, that means you really didn't come through in the clutch. The pitching staff was great today, threw strikes, got guys out. But we have to approach every game like it's a playoff game."
Essentially, every game is now as meaningful as the postseason. The Wingnuts gave back their breathing room and the luxury of being able to avert their eyes from the scoreboard.
But they showed they can play well under pressure by sweeping Gary last weekend. A return to that form will likely be needed for Wichita to reach the playoffs.
"We do all the hard work, sweep Gary to get into first place, then we just lay down," Hooper said. "We act like we've won the World Series and we're already in the playoffs. That's not the case. This series is way more important than the Gary series."
Fenwick 3b4121Mojica 2b5031
White ss2000Horn ss5010
Cruz lf4000Richardson 3b5000
Alberts rf4111Rivera 1b4010
Pope dh4000Delgado dh4000
DLGarza 2b4000Workman rf3000
Kain cf4100Bellorin c4011
Butler c5010Conroy lf4130
Amarillo002 000 000 1 — 3 Wichita000 001 100 0 — 2
E—Mojica (1), Horn (20), Richardson (14). DP—Amarillo 2, Wichita 1. LOB—Amarillo 12, Wichita 7. 2B—Fenwick 2 (3), Alberts (29), Farnsworth (3), Einertson (5), Conroy (23). 3B—Mojica (5), Conroy 2 (10). SB—Fenwick (3), Horn (16). S—White (6), Pope (4).
Bass W, 5-4220001
Simon L, 3-5111111
HBP—By Singleton (Cruz).
Umpires—Home, Justin Post; First, Joe Pascucci; Third, Derek Moos.