The Gary Southshore RailCats had a one-game lead over the Lincoln Saltdogs entering play Tuesday night. They had the momentum of turning a 2.5 game deficit into a 1-game lead and were facing a team that they had beaten six out of eight times in their stadium. That didn’t seem to matter in the end as the RailCats fell 8-6 to the Sioux City Explorers, dropping them into a first-place tie with the Lincoln Saltdogs.
The Explorers made it look like this was going to be a game they were going to take easily. After plating one in the bottom of the second on Dillon Usiak’s RBI double, the Explorers went to work on Gary starter Stephen Bougher in the third. Oscar Mesa and Tim Cowell singled to lead off the bottom of the inning. Rene Tosoni walked to load the bases, and then Peter Barrows followed with a two-run single that plated both Mesa and Cowell. Andres Perez grounded out to score Tosoni, and one out later Amos Ramon singled home Barrows for the 5-0 lead.
The game had the makings of a complete blowout, especially considering that John Straka looked untouchable for Sioux City. He breezed through the first four innings, giving up just two hits, and never seeming to find himself in any trouble. It just looked like it was going to be one of those nights for Gary when things just weren’t going to go their way. If that is what people were thinking then they don’t know anything about these ‘Cats.
Maybe a cat doesn’t have nine lives, but these ‘Cats know they have nine innings to score, and in the fifth they got themselves on the board. Wally Backman led off the inning with a walk, and on a 2-0 pitch to Drew Muren, he blasted his sixth home run of the year to cut the deficit to 5-2.
In the sixth the RailCats scratched out four runs on just three hits. Straka struck out the first two batters of the inning, and it looked like he was going to be right back on his game, but then Ryan Brockett singled and Backman walked. That brought the early hook as Straka was relieved by Kenny Long. Muren flew out to the center fielder for what should have been the third out, but he misplayed it allowing Muren to reach and two runs to score. Daniel Pulfer singled to score Muren and Drew Martinez followed with a hit that plated Pulfer. The RailCats got four runs and were in front for the first time in the game 6-5. Saltdogs’ fans could be heard all the way from Lincoln yelling, “NO WAY!!”
While Gary mounted the impressive comeback, their pitchers could not hold it for even one inning. In the bottom of the sixth a lead-off walk and a one out single would put runners on the corners. Ethan Gibbons relieved Bougher and gave up a double to Michael Lang that tied the game. Following a wild pitch that scored Usiak, Mesa doubled bringing home Lang, and the Explorers were on top to stay 8-6.
From there, Sioux City’s bullpen took over. Long retired Gary in order in the seventh and eighth innings, and Alex Burnett came on in the ninth to pitch a perfect inning and earn his first save of the season. Long got the win to move to 2-0 on the season, while Bougher fell to 8-6.
The loss hurt the RailCats for now, but it in no way crushed them. These ‘Cats know how to scratch and claw their way to the place they want to get, and they have six more chances to do so. A cat is supposed to have nine lives; these ‘Cats have six more “lives” to get themselves into the playoffs.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA