For the second straight night the Wichita Wingnuts jumped out to an early lead in their American Association Championship series game against the Lincoln Saltdogs. Unlike the previous night, however, the Wingnuts gave no impression to those pesky ‘Dogs that they were going to have a chance to get back into this game, as starter Anthony Capra and four Wingnuts relievers combined to hold the Saltdogs to just two runs, and bring the Wingnuts within in one game of the team’s first American Association championship.
The game began with Wichita putting six on the board in the first inning. Kevin McGovern started for Lincoln and it was clear he did not have his best stuff this day. Ryan Khoury led off the game with single, his third hit of the series, and the sixth time he had been on base in his first seven trips to the plate. Chris McClendon then followed with a single sending Khoury to third. That brought David Espinosa to the plate, who singled home Khoury and three batters into the game the Wingnuts already had a 1-0 lead.
What was cause for concern was that McGovern was around the plate, but his pitches were getting hit. He had thrown six pitches, and three of them had already been hit for singles. That was not boding well for him on this night as Wingnuts hitters were not fooled by the lefty’s pitches in any way. That became even more apparent when two pitches after Espinosa gave the Wingnuts the lead, American Association MVP Brent Clevlen hit his second home run of the Championship series, increasing the lead to 4-0.
Abel Nieves followed Clevlen as he reached on a single. Carlo Testa then hit into a fielder’s choice, and McGovern finally had his first out of the game. The Wingnuts were not done putting on the pressure however. Testa stole second base with catcher Chris McMurray at the plate, and came around to score on an errant throw by first baseman Ian Gac. On the next pitch from the Lincoln starter McMurray blasted it for a solo homer and gave his team a 6-0 lead. That was McGovern’s last pitch in the game. Justin Kuks took over in relief, leaving the lefty with a line of 0.1 innings pitched, 6 hits, and 6 earned runs allowed.
In the second the Wingnuts were right back on the scoreboard. Khoury singled again to lead off the inning and moved to second on another single by McClendon. Espinosa walked to load the bases, and Khoury scored on a ground out by Clevlen that also moved McClendon and Espinosa up 90 feet. Nieves grounded to second for the second out of the inning, but McClendon scored on the play, making the lead 8-0.
Despite being down by eight, the Saltdogs were not going to roll over and play dead. American Association home run leader Ian Gac got the team on the board by working the count full and then hitting his first home run of the playoffs. Brian Joynt then walked and Jeremy Hamilton singled putting two on with no one out. Lincoln was mounting a rally of their own. One out later Mike Gilmartin singled with Joynt scoring on the play, and it was now 8-2. That brought catcher Chris Anderson to the plate, who was hitless in eight trips to the plate against Winnipeg in the previous series. Anderson hit a hard grounder to McClendon that he fired around the horn for the double play and the threat was over.
In the top of the third the Wingnuts did what has become a trademark of theirs this season – respond. The Saltdogs had scored in the bottom of the second inning, so the Wichita hitters got right back on the scoreboard in their next trip to the plate. With one out, David Amberson singled. One out later Khoury reached base for the third time in the first three innings, this time via a walk. McClendon then singled, scoring Amberson, and the Wingnuts had a 9-2 lead.
With the lead in hand, the Wingnuts rode out their pitching staff from then on. Capra allowed just the two runs in his five innings of work. He pitched quite effectively, allowing five hits, but also walked four batters while striking out five. The lefty has struggled a bit with high pitch counts in his two playoffs starts, but with the bullpen well rested and with Friday being an off-day, Manager Kevin Hooper could rely on his bullpen to eat some innings.
Chris Peacock was the first Wingnuts reliever out the pen, pitching a perfect 1-2-3 inning, as did Mike Zouzalik. Chase Johnson took over in the eighth, and it looked like the Saltdogs were going to have a chance to rally. After recording the first out, Matt Forgatch singled and one later Joynt doubled to move Forgatch to third. Hamilton walked loading the bases for Brandon Pinckney, who was 0-2 on the night, but had been 1-2 the previous game. Pinckney hit the 1-1 offering from Johnson hard, but right at Nieves who flipped to Khoury for the third out. That was the last threat Lincoln would muster. In the ninth Dan Sattler took over, striking out the side in order, and the game was over.
While Khoury had a great night, it was McClendon who was an even bigger force in the lineup. He was 4-5 for the game, scored two runs and drove in a third. Clevlen finished with four RBI.
The series now moves to Wichita for Game 3 Saturday night with the ‘Nuts up 2-0. RHP Joe Bisenius, who had a shutout in the series clincher against Winnipeg, will go for Lincoln against 12-game winner Jason Van Skike. Van Skike has not lost at home this season, going 8-0 in the regular season, and 1-0 so far in the playoffs.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA