A week ago, outfielder Steve Stanley had no investment in the Wingnuts’ charge to the postseason. He probably didn’t even know who the Wingnuts were, and he certainly had no designs on being part of a victory party with them.
But the only reason Stanley didn’t do much celebrating after Wichita’s 1-0 win over El Paso on Monday was because he was the one being celebrated.
Stanley, who made his Wingnuts debut on Sunday after being signed from the Freedom League, singled in the bottom of the seventh in Game 1 of a doubleheader — both games were seven innings — to allow the Wingnuts to clinch the American Association Central.
It was the most important hit for Stanley since he resumed his baseball career this season after a nearly six-year absence in the most important game for the Wingnuts in 2012.
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His single up the middle scored David Peralta, and by the time Stanley reached first, he was being dogpiled by the teammates he has known for about 48 hours.
Stanley’s hit got the Wingnuts to the postseason for the third time in four seasons, though they had to wait until after the second game, a 4-1 win boosted by a tiebreaking solo homer by C.J. Ziegler in the sixth, to launch the champagne-assisted festivities in the locker room.
"I came from a situation where I was not on a very good team," said Stanley, who played for Arizona of the independent Freedom League before the Wingnuts signed him this weekend. "These guys have a ton of energy and they’re winning almost every night, which is infectuous. It’s exciting for me to be a part of that."
Stanley is the latest find for the Wingnuts, who scoured the waiver wire and lower-level leagues for help when its roster was depleted in June by injuries and three defections to the Mexican League.
The roster turnover threatened to derail the Wingnuts’ season after they started 30-9. Wichita’s significant lead in the division dwindled but never disappeared, and the Wingnuts have thrived since getting healthy and since the return of departed hitters C.J. Ziegler and Jake Kahaulelio.
Stanley was the final addition to what should be the Wingnuts’ playoff roster, and he joins Wilson Batista, Greg Porter and Jessie Mier as players who weren’t part of the blazing start but who have helped them back on course since.
"To go wire-to-wire, that’s hard to do, especially with what happened," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "I tip my hat to the guys. I don’t do what I do without the guys, without the front office of this organization putting me in this position. ...It’s been a challenging year. It was very challenging for that month, but I’m going to stay positive."
The Wingnuts’ win was momentous for multiple reasons. The division clinch shared billing with starting pitcher Josh Lowey setting the league record for single-season wins, with 15.
Lowey never pitched with the lead, but he held down an El Paso lineup that leads the circuit in batting average and which he lost to in his two previous starts. Lowey, who improved to 15-4, nearly upstaged himself by pitching a no-hitter, but he allowed two hits that could have easily been outs.
David Peralta lost a ball in the sun in the first inning, turning it into a double, and Batista failed to field a hard grounder at third that was ruled a hit.
"Me and (pitching coach Luke Robertson) were just talking about that," Lowey said. "The two hits they had were a little suspect, but it was a great win for us. I can’t say more about our defense and our lineup coming through right there. It was a huge win for us and, personally, myself."
And for Stanley, who has provided a similar energy as Mike Conroy before Conroy went on the disabled list with a collapsed lung suffered when he ran into the wall in El Paso last week.
Stanley has plenty of energy saved up _ before this season, he hadn’t played professionally since 2006, when he left Midland of the Double-A Texas League after seven games.
His pedigree suggested he could reacclamate himself quickly — Stanley, who played at Notre Dame from 1999-2002, is third on the NCAA career hits list and he reached Triple-A in the Oakland Athletics organization.
But for the last five years he has been running an insurance company, daydreaming about baseball but nothing as seemingly ridiculous as helping a new team clinch a playoff spot.
"I absolutely didn’t believe a week ago that this could happen,” Stanley said. “My wife and my kids came out here, we drove 17 hours straight. I’m a little short on sleep, but the excitement level since I’ve been out here, it’s a new start for me and it’s exciting for me to be a part of this.”
|Gonzalez ss||2||0||1||0||Khoury ss||3||0||1||0|
|Fronk 3b||2||0||0||0||Kahaulelio 2b||3||0||0||0|
|Einertson cf||3||0||1||0||Rodriguez dh||3||0||0||0|
|Dotel rf||3||0||0||0||Ziegler 1b||3||0||0||0|
|Acey 1b||3||0||0||0||Porter lf||2||0||0||0|
|Nelson dh||3||0||0||0||Batista 3b||2||1||0||0|
|Chavez c||2||0||0||0||Peralta rf||2||0||1||0|
|Muse lf||2||0||0||0||Mier c||3||0||1||0|
|Marks 2b||2||0||0||0||Stanley cf||3||0||3||1|
LOB—El Paso 3, Wichita 6. DP—El Paso 1. 2B—Einertson (19), Stanley (1).
Umpires — home, Pascucci; first, Delmont; second, Post. T —2:10.
|Gonzalez ss||1||0||0||0||Khoury ss||3||1||1||0|
|Fronk 3b||3||0||0||0||Kahaulelio 2b||3||0||1||0|
|Einertson cf||3||0||0||0||Rodriguez dh||3||0||0||0|
|Dotel rf||3||1||2||0||Ziegler 1b||3||1||1||1|
|Acey 1b||3||0||0||0||Porter lf||3||1||1||0|
|Nelson 2b||1||0||1||1||McDonald rf||3||1||1||1|
|Chavez dh||3||0||0||0||Carrillo 3b||3||0||1||0|
|Larson c||3||0||1||0||Morioka c||2||0||0||0|
|Muse lf||2||0||0||0||Stanley cf||2||0||0||0|
E—Fronk (15). LOB—El Paso 5, Wichita 4.. 2B—Dotel (11), Nelson (13), Porter (16), Carrillo (11). 3B—McDonald (5). HR—Ziegler (17) .
|Garcia, L 1-6||6||6||4||3||1||1|
|Martinez W, 2-1||1||1||0||0||0||0|
Umpires — home, Trent Delmont; first, Justin Post; third, Joe Pascucci. T — 1:47. A — 2,508.