Returning Professor Jon Link Gives Wichita Wingnuts Double-Header Sweep
You got to hand it Wichita Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper, the President of Wingnuts University. He decided when his offense was struggling that the way to remedy that was to improve his starting pitching staff so run support was not as critical a need as it had been early on. To accomplish this he reacquired undefeated left-hander Omar Bencomo and on Tuesday he put the icing on the cake by bringing back Professor Jon Link, the ace of last year’s staff.
Tuesday night the Wingnuts welcomed the Laredo Lemurs to town. Monday’s game was rained out forcing a double-header Tuesday night, and Wichita made it look like old times as RHP Tim Brown dominated the Lemurs in Game 1, and then watched Link do the same in Game 2 on the way to the double-header sweep.
Game 1 was Wingnuts U at its very best. It seriously looked like throw-back day, as the traditional pattern for success of the club dominated the first contest; strong starting pitching, great setup relief, closer shutting the door, timely hitting, and plenty of key hits. The only difference was that a couple of newbies got to jump in to the act to aid in the victory.
Brown was opposed by left-hander Henry Garcia (1-4) in Game 1. Both pitchers put up zeros through the first two frames, but Wichita got their offense going in the bottom of the third. Taylor Oldham singled to begin the inning and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jayce Ray. David Espinosa followed with a single that moved Oldham to third, and newcomer Starlin Rodriguez singled to drive in Oldham to make it 1-0. TJ Mittelstaedt reached on a fielder’s choice, and Joash Brodin singled to bring home Espinosa to give Brown a two-run lead.
In the bottom of the fourth the club extended that lead. Luis Hernandez singled with one out and moved to second on a base hit by Oldham. Ray singled to load them up, and that would be it for Garcia, Ryan Beckman relieved but he fared no better. Espinosa lined a single into center field driving home two runs to make it 4-0. Two batters later Hooper rolled the dice on a double-steal. Ray successfully stole home, but Espinosa was out at second. The run counted, however, giving Wichita the 5-0 lead.
That was plenty enough for Brown (4-1) on this night. The right-hander worked 5 innings, allowing 5 hits, 3 walks and a run; it was unearned. That amazing part is that the three walks he allowed actually doubled his total for the season to this point. Brown has now allowed just six walks in 57.2 innings.
Daniel Bennett came in to pitch the sixth and retired the side in order. Newly acquired closer Dakota Watts came in to pitch the final frame. He may not be Matt Nevarez, but the big right-hander has all the tools of Dr. K, and it showed as he retired the side to close out the game.
Game 2 saw the return of Link, and he picked up right where he had left off last season. Professor Link (1-0) dominated the Lemurs, allowing just one hit in five innings of work. He walked none and struck out three in earning his first win since returning.
Scott Garner started for Laredo and pitched well through the first two innings, but it was the third and fourth innings that did the Lemurs in as it had in Game 1. Actually the game had a very similar feel to the Game 1 match. Oldham walked to begin the third inning, and Ray reached base on a fielder’s choice. Espinosa was hit by a pitch and Mittelstaedt followed with a single that brought in Oldham. Matt Padgett followed with a walk that brought in Ray and it was 2-0 Wingnuts.
In the bottom of the fourth the Wichita Wingnuts put up four more runs. Once again Oldham got the rally started, singling with one out. Ray singled to move Oldham to second, and Espinosa walked to load the bases. That brought Mittelstaedt to the plate, who took a 1-1 pitch and ripped it to the center field wall for a triple. All three runners came into score and Mittelstaedt came around as well on an error to make it 6-0.
The Lemurs got a run in the top of the seventh, but by that point it was way too late. The Wichita Wingnuts would walk away with the double-header sweep.
It was an amazing day for the two starters. Brown and Link combined for 10 innings pitched, 6 hits, 3 walks and 6 strikeouts. Oldham and Ray looked especially impressive as well. They may be at the bottom of the order, but the two combined to go 6-10, with 5 runs and 2 walks in the two contests. They made a huge difference on the outcome of both games.
By Robert Pannier