It was a classic pitchers’ duel in Kansas City Tuesday night, as the Kansas City T-Bones and Sioux City Explorers took a 1-1 tie into the ninth inning before this game would be decided. In the end a ninth inning rally by the Explorers gave the team from Iowa a 2-1 victory in the series opener between the two clubs.
The Explorers staked themselves to a 1-0 lead in the first. Matty Johnson led off with a single and stole second. The throw by T-Bones catcher Brian Erie was just out of the reach of the shortstop and went into centerfield, allowing Johnson to reach third. Michael Lang followed with a sacrifice fly that scored Johnson, and just two batters into the game Sioux City had the lead.
It was a rough start for Kansas City starter Blake Holovach, but he pitched an amazing ballgame after the opening inning run. After a lead-off single to Ryan Court in the top of the second Holovach retired 10 of the next 11 batters. The one that did reach, a one out walk to Matt Koch in the fifth, was wiped out by a double-play.
Sioux City starter Jeff Marquez was also pitching exceptionally well. The righty retired the first six batters of the game in order, before giving up a run in the third. C.J. Henry doubled to lead off the bottom of the third, and moved to third on a single by Vladamir Frias. Erie flew out to right fielder Michael Lang, who made the catch and threw home trying to gun down Henry. Ryan Court cut the ball off, allowing Henry to score, but gunned down Frias who was trying to reach second base. That tied the score, but made it two outs. A ground out by Ryan Cavan ended the inning with the score 1-1.
Including the double play, Marquez retired 12 of the next 14, including two double-plays. He was pitching masterfully, and matching Holovach hitter for hitter.
Holovach’s day was over after five and he turned the game over to his bullpen. Joe VanMeter took over and was pitching masterfully, keeping the Explorers from scoring through the eighth. In the ninth he appeared to run out of gas. The right-hander gave up a lead-off single to Michael Lang, and Rene Tosoni followed with a double to put runners at second and third with no one out. With the infield in Brock Kjeldgaard grounded to Cavan who had no play at the plate, but he made a smart choice throwing to third to nail Tosoni. That gave the Sioux Falls Explorers the 2-1 lead, but there was no runner in scoring position any longer. VanMeter retired the side, and the T-Bones were going to need a big ninth inning rally.
Following Marquez’s departure, Jimmer Kennedy pitched the seventh and eighth innings, and he pitched very well, allowing just one hit while striking out three in two innings. With the lead the Explorers turned to Jose Flores to close it out in the ninth. Flores retired the first batter of the inning, but Adam Bailey singled to put the tying run on base. Kyle Robinson then took a 2-1 pitch by Flores and gave it a ride, but Tim Cowell made the catch near the warning track for the second out. Joe Rapp was the last chance for the Kansas City T-Bones, but he struck out on three pitches to end the game. Final score 2-1, Sioux City Explorers.
Both starters pitched masterfully, though neither got a decision. Marquez went 6 innings, allowing just 4 hits and a run, while striking out 4. Holovach went 5, giving up 2 hits and 2 walks. The run he allowed was unearned. He also struck out 3.
VanMeter (1-1) took the loss for the Kansas City T-Bones. He pitched 4 innings, allowing 4 hits and a run while striking out 4. Kennedy (1-0) was the winner, and Flores recorded his 3rd save of the season.
By Robert Pannier