The winning streak ended, but the good feelings stayed around longer than expected for the Wingnuts on Friday night.
After getting shut down for seven innings by Lincoln pitching, Wichita got two home runs from John Rodriguez to turn a seemingly sure outcome into a nail-biting 6-5 Saltdogs win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The loss ended the Wingnuts’ franchise-best 13-game winning streak.
Rodriguez’s second homer, a three-run shot an inning after his two-run blast ended Lincoln’s shutout bid, created an energetic atmosphere among the 3,512 fans in attendance and appeared to be the latest stroke of good fortune for a team that hadn’t lost in two weeks.
But the Wingnuts couldn’t capitalize on that energy. After Lincoln closer R.J. Rodriguez entered with one out, C.J. Ziegler struck out looking and Brent Clevlen fell behind in the count 0-2 before flying out to right field to end the game.
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“We didn’t expect to win out,” Rodriguez said. “They’re a good team over there. They’ve got good pitching and good timely hitting today. We just started late. We started later than usual, but we’ll be there tomorrow and we’ll battle again.”
A run in the top of the ninth that Lincoln didn’t figure to need, even after Rodriguez’s eight-inning homer, proved the difference. It was especially deflating because the Wingnuts had a chance to build on their two eighth-inning runs but failed.
Abel Nieves and Cole Armstrong drew two-out walks and brought up the lineup’s No. 8 slot that usually belongs to either Colt Loehrs or David Amberson. But with both outfielders being diagnosed with broken bones in their hands on Friday, backup catcher Scott Dalrymple was forced to man right field and the Wingnuts were left with an empty bench.
Dalrympe was far from the best choice to bat as the tying run and Lincoln seemed to know it, walking Armstrong on four pitches. Dalrymple’s at-bat was four pitches, too, but it resulted in a strikeout as he was overmatched by P.J. Zocchi’s mid-90s fastball.
Dalrymple is 0 for his last 24 and 2 for 33 overall.
“You get exposed sometimes,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “It’s just unfortunate we didn’t have anybody to use. You get opportunity after opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of one of them, and we weren’t able to capitalize in any shape or form.”
Lincoln starter Travis Parker wasn’t, on paper, a likely candidate to shut down the Wingnuts, but he got through five innings without a blemish and left with a 3-0 lead.
Parker was making an emergency start, his second of the season after 15 relief appearances, and Wichita didn’t take a wait-and-see approach against an unfamiliar opponent even though Parker was unlikely to pitch deep into the game.
The first time through the order, eight Wingnuts saw three or fewer pitches. That improved as the game progressed, but Wichita became especially anxious in scoring opportunities.
Before Rodriguez’s ninth-inning homer, Wichita had seven at-bats with two runners on base and didn’t record a hit in any of them. Worse yet, the Wingnuts saw 15 total pitches in those at-bats, including Dalrymple’s strikeout. In five of those situations, hitters swung at either the first or second pitch.
“We were jumpy,” Hooper said. “Slow curveball (from Parker) and we were out in front. Just didn’t make an adjustment quick enough, because we should have gotten to that guy, I felt. But tip your hat to him, he did great. Kept them right in the ballgame.”
The Wingnuts organized a ninth-inning rally that culminated in Rodriguez’s homer but didn’t extend beyond that. Ryan Khoury’s bunt single and a grounder hit by Jake Kahaulelio that hit the umpire for a single, instead of a possible double play, set up Rodriguez’s near heroics.
Rodriguez, Wichita’s most experienced player and a former major leaguer, carried the offense in the late innings, but his teammates were unable to follow his lead.
“It’s kind of weird how when one person hits a home run it kills a rally kind of,” Rodriguez said. “… Mentally you’ve got to get away from that and focus on the game plan and go from there. We fought, we fought. It was a tough battle.”
|Coles cf||5||1||2||1||Khoury ss||4||1||1||0|
|Espinosa 2b||5||1||1||2||Kahaulelio 2b||4||2||2||0|
|Smith 3b||4||0||1||0||J. Rodriguez dh||5||2||2||5|
|Gac 1b||5||2||2||1||Ziegler 1b||5||0||2||0|
|Gaston rf||4||0||2||0||Clevlen cf||4||0||1||0|
|Forgatch lf||3||0||0||0||Nieves 3b||3||0||0||0|
|Douglas dh||4||0||2||0||Armstrong c||3||0||2||0|
|Goodro c||2||0||0||1||Dalrymple rf||4||0||0||0|
|O’Connell c||0||1||0||0||McDonald lf||3||0||1||0|
|Lincoln||010||030||011||—||6 10 0|
|Wichita||000||000||023||—||5 11 0|
DP – Lincoln 2, Wichita 3. LOB— Lincoln 7, Wichita 9. 2B— Gaston (15); Clevlen (9) 3B – Espinosa (2). HR – Gac (8), Rodriguez 2 (12). HBP – Smith (2) by Bennett. SF – Goodro (2). S – Squier. SB – Coles (12), Smith (1), Forgatch (18).
|Parker W, 1-1||5||3||0||0||3||1|
|R. Rodriguez S (22)||2/3||0||0||0||0||1|
|Guerra L, 6-2||7||7||4||4||2||5|
HBP — Smith by Bennett (3). WP — Guerra (16). PB – Goodro. Umpires—Home, Joe Pascucci; first, P.J. Krauss; third, Brock Ballou.
T — 3:02. A — 3,512.