Tommy Collier had struggled in Game 1 of the South Division Championship series, allowing two home runs and four total runs in a 4-2 loss to begin the series. However, he redeemed himself in the most spectacular of ways, holding the Sioux City Explorers to one run in seven innings of work, helping the Kansas City T-Bones to advance to the American Association Championship series with a 4-2 victory. Adrian Nieto had a homer and scored two runs, and Todd Cunningham was a perfect 3-3 in the series winning contest.
A deciding game in a playoff series deserves memorable performances, and the two starting pitchers delivered just that. James Dykstra started for the Sioux City Explorers and gave up a two-out hit in the top of the first-inning, then retired the next eight batters before seeing his streak come to an end on a one-out hit in the fourth. However, he induced a double-play to and any threat.
Tommy Collier was just as brilliant for the Kansas City T-Bones. He retired the first five batters of the game, seeing that come to an end with a two-out walk in the second. However, through four innings the right-hander had not allowed a hit as the game remained scoreless.
In the top of the fifth, Kansas City would finally break through. Adrian Nieto led off the inning by working the count full and fouling off two pitches to stay alive before connecting on his first home run of the playoffs, a solo shot that gave the T-Bones a 1-0 lead.
Sioux City looked like they would respond right away in the bottom half of the inning. With one down, Jay Baum delivered the first hit of the game for the Explorers, a ground ball down the line in left field that he legged out for a double. Collier then walked Blake Schmit and Dylan Kelly and suddenly the bases were loaded with just one down. However, the Kansas City right-hander was unfazed. He had been awesome with this curveball all night, and used that to strike out both Daniel Jackson and Luis Durango to end the threat and keep his team on top by a run.
It remained 1-0 through six but, in the seventh, Kansas City would get a huge break that would help them to take a commanding lead in this contest. Todd Cunningham led off with a base hit into center and Nieto singled two batters later to make it first and third and one down. The Explorers turned to Ryan Horstman who walked Keith Curcio to load the bases with still only one out.
Luis Mateo then came on from the bullpen. He struck out Alay Lago and it looked like he would get out of the inning when Danny Hayes hit a flyball into shallow right field that looked like it would be the third out of the inning. However, Michael Lang lost it in the lights, but stuck with it backtracking in a rather unusual pathway before it looked like he had gotten underneath the ball to make the final out. However, it fell about four inches short of his glove, dropping in for a double as all three runners came into score to give the T-Bones a 4-0 lead.
In the bottom half of the inning, a defensive lapse by Kansas City would cost them as well. Collier struck out the first batter of the inning, but gave up a base hit to Schmit before Kelly doubled to the wall in left field to put two in scoring position with just one out. Next up was Jackson, who grounded a ball down to third base. Mason Davis made a nice play, but his throw to first was wild, rolling into foul ground as Schmit came into score and Kelly reaching third. As he had been in the fifth, Collier was relentless, striking out Durango before getting Lang to ground back to the mound to end the inning.
Tommy Collier (1-1) would be done after seven. The right-hander allowed 4-hits, 3-walks and a run. He struck out 9.
Joe Filomeno came on in the eighth, and the Explorers would rally. The lefty retired the first two batters of the inning, but hit Dean Green to keep Sioux City alive. Baum then drew a walk bringing Schmit to the plate, who singled up the middle, driving home Green and sending Baum to third. Filomeno was laboring, but he followed the plan of his starter, striking out Kelly to end the inning and preserve the two run lead.
Cody Winiarski came on in the ninth looking to close it out and gave up a single to Jackson to begin the inning. However, the T-Bones closer retired the next three batters to close out the contest with his third save of the series, as the celebration for the Kansas City T-Bones began.
Adrian Nieto led the Kansas City T-Bones offense, going 2-4 with 2-runs and an RBI. Danny Hayes was 1-3 with 3-RBI. Todd Cunningham finished 3-3 with a run and a walk. Blake Schmit led the Sioux City offense, going 2-3 with a run and an RBI.
The Kansas City T-Bones move onto the American Association Championship series where they will face the St. Paul Saints. Games 1 and 2 will be in St. Paul starting on Tuesday night.
By Robert Pannier