Twenty-eight seasons of professional baseball experience converged on a fly ball that should have finished off a Wingnuts win over Lincoln on Saturday afternoon.
Wichita shortstop Ryan Khoury went out to shallow center field and appeared to have a track on the high fly hit by Stephen Holdren. Center fielder Mitch Einertson raced in, and left fielder Mike Conroy created a triangle just big enough for the ball to drop.
Which it did. Instead of recording an easy final out, the Wingnuts created a mishap that allowed the tying runs to score with two outs in the ninth. Two innings later, a two-run double by John Alonso gave the Saltdogs a 5-3, 11-inning win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The Wingnuts would have won their season-opening four-game series but Lincoln managed to salvage a split.
Holdren was credited with a double and two RBIs, but it was much easier to place blame on the Wingnuts’ trio, a group comprised of three players who have all been playing professionally for at least seven years.
Wichita manager Kevin Hooper lamented over having to have a conversation with veteran players over an elementary play.
"I don’t know whose ball it was," Hooper said. "It doesn’t matter, somebody has to catch it. It’s Mitch’s job as the center fielder to communicate. I heard that somebody was yelling, ‘You, you, you,’ but when three guys are going for it that doesn’t do a lot of good."
The ball was hit so high that it appeared Khoury had time to drift back to settle under it and for Einertson to come in and catch it with ease.
Conroy had the farthest to go to catch it and it probably wasn’t his play, but his involvement seemed to complicate the issue. Neither Khoury or Einertson called the other off, and the ball bounced high enough off the turf for the trail runner, Mike Provencher, to score from first and tie it 2-2.
The blunder happened at an inopportune time, and though Hooper has addressed communication among fielders already this season, Einertson believes the problem can be solved easily.
“I guess just a little miscommunication, a little stuff early in the season," Einertson said. "We’ll pan it out, we’ll be all right."
Khoury, a sure-handed shortstop who has reached Triple-A, also struggled to come up with an explanation.
“I’m not sure, we have to get together to figure it out,” Khoury said. “Right now, I just don’t have a comment on that.”
The miscue spoiled the best day the Wingnuts’ bullpen has had to date. Wichita relievers allowed 21 runs during the first three games, making two wins too close for comfort and turning a tie game into a blowout loss on Saturday.
Khoury and Einertson nearly joined forces to atone for their mistake in the bottom of the ninth. Khoury led off the half-inning with a bunt single, moving to third with two outs and Einertson at the plate.
Einertson flied out, paving the way for Lincoln to score off Wichita’s taxed bullpen. Nick Walters, making his third appearance of the season, walked two in the 11th before allowing Alonso’s double.
"There’s potential there," Khoury said. "We just have to iron some things out and we’ll be ready to go."
Wichitaabrhbiabrhbi Provencher cf 3211Khoury ss4020Shah rf5020McDonald 3b4100Holdren dh5012Rodriguez dh4120Ventura 3b4100Ziegler 1b4011Alonso 1b5012Einertson cf3101Beatty lf5010Peralta rf5000Rick c2000Manriquez c5010Miller c2010Kahaulelio 2b3010Payne 2b5020Conroy lf5021Barroso ss5220Totals 415115Totals 37393
LOB—Lincoln 13, Wichita 11. 2B— J. Rodriguez (1), Holdren (1), Alonso (1), Barroso (1). SF —Einertson (1).
IPHRERBBSOBarnard 562221Cooney211111Slovak110010Parise W, 1-0210011Zocchi100011
IPHRERBBSOPerez 441126Nadeau210033Simon110001Nevarez100013Martinez242213Walters L, 0-1112222
WP — Parise (1-0). Umpires — Home, Childs; First, Carroll; Third, Gunton.. T — 4:22. A —2,690.