Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper has recently bemoaned the fact that Wichita has had few blowout wins during its recent struggle to solidify playoff contention.
The Wingnuts appeared to be on their way toward one after taking a four-run lead over Gary Southshore in the first inning on Friday.
They didn't get it, but their method of victory may prove to shift momentum more easily than a runaway.
Juan Richardson hit a walkoff three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth on a full count, lifting Wichita to an 8-6 win in what could prove to be a pivotal series for playoff positioning.
Gary still leads the Wingnuts by a game in the American Association Central, but if Wichita can carry over the energy from Friday's dramatic victory, it could take control of the race in the season's final week and a half.
"That's good times right there," Hooper said. "We got four (runs) early, and that's what we talked about, getting to (an opposing starting pitcher) early. We kind of let them settle in, and they just kept chipping and chipping and chipping."
Richardson fell behind in the count 0-2 against Gary closer Travis Minix on two sliders, the second of which was well outside that Richardson chased.
After laying off two sliders, Richardson took an outside fastball to run the count full. Richardson saw another fastball and adjusted, hitting it out to the opposite field. Christian Guerrero and Toddric Johnson could only watch as the ball carried over the wall in right-center field.
"I was looking for strikes and trying to find something I could drive," Richardson said. "I just tried to get something for a strike and take it the other way, because he threw me a lot of sliders."
After a one-out single by Mike Conroy, Jimmy Mojica struck out and the Wingnuts were down to their final out.
Josh Horn bounced an infield single up the middle, moving Conroy to second and giving a chance to Richardson, who had a walk and two singles to that point.
A single would have tied it, but Richardson improved on that scenario. His homer set off a celebration on the field, and Richardson was mobbed at home plate by jovial teammates who sent Richardson to the ground with their playful attacks.
Gary has elevated to the top of the division with dramatic wins — they've won 13 games via game-ending hits. But the RailCats had the tables turned on them Friday.
"It's just staying confident and trusting the guy behind you and letting everybody do it," Hooper said. "We had some good at-bats there in that last inning, I thought, and we grinded it out."
The first seven Wingnuts reached base in the first inning, leading to four runs before a double play ended the inning. Wichita built the lead to 5-0 on a wild pitch in the third, but its offense was mostly stagnant after the big inning.
Gary eventually took the lead with three two-run innings, but the most important may have been an inning in which it didn't score.
After a borderline pitch was called a ball, Ryan Hinson surrendered a single in the fifth inning to Cristian Guerrero. During the next at-bat, Wingnuts pitching coach Luke Robertson was ejected after a brief verbal altercation with home plate umpire Joey Stegner.
Though Hinson escaped the inning with no damage done, he didn't appear as comfortable after the fifth as he did before. Gary scored two in the sixth and Hinson's high pitch count prevented him from continuing.
The RailCats scored two in the seventh off Jared Simon, taking the lead on No. 9 hitter Chris Carrara's RBI single. Will Krout set Wichita down on seven pitches in the eighth, but Minix didn't have it nearly as easy.
"It's very, very important for all of us," Richardson said. "That's the team that's in first place. They want to beat us, but we want to be in first place."
Klein lf5001Mojica 2b5110
Massaro dh5021Horn ss5221
Boyer 2b5000Richardson 3b4134
Guerrero rf5120Rivera 1b4220
Johnson cf4110Delgado dh3100
Kolb ss5232Einertson cf3010
Rohde 1b4120Workman rf3012
Valadez c4121Bustamante c3010
Carrara 3b2011Bellorin c1000
Gary Southshore000 202 200 — 6 Wichita401 000 003 — 8
DP—Gary 1. LOB—Gary 10, Wichita 5. 2B—Massaro (23), Kolb 2 (12), Rohde (28), Horn (30). 3B—Massaro (13). HR—Richardson (10). SB—Valadez (2). CS—Richardson (5), Bustamante (1). S—Carrara (9).
Minix L, 1-2 2/333301
Tabata W, 2-0100001
Umpires—Home, Joey Stegner; First, Trent Delmont; Third, Bryan Childe.