The Wingnuts rode the emotional euphoria of clinching a playoff spot on Friday for 15 innings. The final three of Sunday’s 8-3 loss to Grand Prairie at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium were the perhaps inevitable letdown.
Starting pitcher Chris Smith left with a lead after six strong innings, but three relievers – including two who might not see important innings in the postseason – unraveled as Grand Prairie scored five runs after the sixth inning.
Two of the AirHogs’ three home runs were hit in the final two innings as they were the first to solve a tricky strike zone that helped produce 16 strikeouts, 10 by Wichita pitching.
“We didn’t come out with the same kind of fire that we had the last couple nights,” Wingnuts catcher Cole Armstrong said. “A couple bounces didn’t go our way. Hats off to them, they flat-out beat us. They’re in a pennant race, too, and they came out and got the best of us tonight. It’s just baseball.”
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Wichita celebrated into the early Saturday-morning hours after securing a playoff bid by beating Grand Prairie on Friday. Saturday night, in a game manager Kevin Hooper called “historically a night where a team doesn’t show up” because of a lack of sleep or focus, Wichita turned in a postseason-worthy performance in a 7-1 win.
The start of Sunday’s game was looking to be a continuation of that pattern, as the Wingnuts had two doubles among three first-inning hits that put them ahead 2-0.C.J. Ziegler took the American Association lead in the third with his 29th homer, putting him one ahead of Tim Pahuta and setting the league record, at least temporarily.
That was all the Wingnuts would get against Grand Prairie starter Josh Strawn and two relievers. Wichita failed to send more than three batters to the plate in any inning past the third, managing a seventh-inning walk that turned into an out on the bases.
“We came out hot, though,” Hooper said. “I thought we were going to make a run at it, but we just kind of hit the brakes. It’s hot out today, too, and maybe being a little tired has caught up to us. It’s bound to happen at some point in this game, you’re not going to be on every single night.”
An Angel Flores homer in the fourth produced the only runs against Smith, who departed after six innings and six strikeouts. Grand Prairie tied it with a pair of hits in the seventh, but the Wingnuts seem primed to retake the lead when they finally got a baserunner to lead off the bottom half.
Armstrong walked and his pinch-runner, Madison Beaird, was out at second on a fielder’s choice hit by David Amberson, the Wingnuts’ fastest player. With Amberson on first there were many options to utilize his speed, and Hooper opted for the hit-and-run.
Jared McDonald fouled away two attempts and, with a left-hander on the mound, Amberson’s chances of stealing second were reduced. He flinched on a pickoff throw and was out after a brief rundown, and no Wingnuts batter reached base again.
“(McDonald) can handle (left-handers), it’s just being patient enough to do it – and he’s a good bunter,” Hooper said. “That’s the same game situation (where I take into account) how we’re feeling, what we’re thinking and all that stuff.”
After Nick Walters surrendered the tying run, Lincoln Holdzkom’s eight inning for Wichita was disastrous. He allowed a double, triple and a solo tiebreaking homer, three stolen bases and two walks.
Erik Lambe, making his Wingnuts debut, gave up four hits and a walk as Grand Prairie pulled away in the ninth. While Holdzkom and Lambe should see time in the postseason, the late-inning bullpen lineup will often be Andrew Aizenstadt, Daniel Bennett and closer Josh Dew, with Walters matching up against lefties.
Hooper often talks about the importance of managing a bullpen, and never is it more crucial than during tightly contested playoff games.
“I’m a matchup guy – whatever I’m feeling, whatever I think about the hitter coming up, so I wouldn’t say it’s just going to be those four,” Hooper said. “I want everyone to be able to contribute. Matchup-wise, we’ll see how the game is going and go from there.”
|Pinckney 2b||5||0||0||0||Khoury ss||3||0||0||0|
|A.Rdrguez 1b||5||1||2||1||Kahaullio 2b||4||1||1||0|
|Karr dh||5||1||1||2||J.Rdrguez dh||4||0||0||0|
|Newell lf||3||2||1||0||Ziegler 1b||4||2||2||2|
|Flores c||5||2||3||3||Clevlen cf||4||0||1||1|
|Kiniry cf||2||0||0||0||Nieves 3b||4||0||0||0|
|Mozingo cf||2||1||2||1||Armstrong c||1||0||0||0|
|Nishimoto ss||4||0||0||0||Bowden c||0||0||0||0|
|Held rf||4||0||2||1||Amberson lf||3||0||1||0|
|Jimenez 3b||4||1||2||0||McDonald lf||3||0||0||0|
DP— Grand Prairie 1, Wichita 1. LOB— Grand Prairie 8, Wichita 3. 2B— Flores (20), Mozingo (5), Ziegler (31), Clevlen (20). 3B — Flores (2). HR — A.Rodriguez (15), Karr 8, Flores (6), Ziegler (29). SB — Newell 2 (2), Mozingo (5), Nishimoto (6), Held (4). CS — Amberson.
|Potts W,5-1||1 2/3||0||0||0||0||3|
Umpires—Home, Mike Mazzarisi; first, Joe Stegner; third, Steve Linton.
T— 2:47. A— 2,228.