The Wichita Wingnuts entered Sunday’s game with the Laredo Lemurs with 71 wins. They left it with 72. It may not seem like a big deal to watch this team find another way to win a game, but Sunday’s victory proves how difficult this team is to beat. The Lemurs scored 14 runs and led 9-5 early in the game, only to see the Wingnuts battle back to win 17-14. This was a night of improbable moments that led the Wingnuts to victory, and show that even if a team thinks they have the door securely closed, the Wingnuts find a way to kick open that door and garner another win.
The Wingnuts watched the Lemurs jump out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Laredo manufactured two runs. With Denis Phipps and Nick Van Stratten on first and second base, both runners moved up on stolen bases, and Van Stratten scored when catcher Brent Dean’s throw went wild. Phipps scored on a sacrifice fly before the inning was over. 2-0 Lemurs
No worries for the Wingnuts however. They know how to respond and how to take back the lead. In fact, it wouldn’t take long before they got the lead. Ryan Khoury led off with a walk and advanced to second on a single by Jared McDonald. That brought David Espinosa to the plate. The Wingnuts first baseman took a called strike, then worked the count to 3-1 before depositing his seventh home run of the year for a 3-2 lead. Wichita added two more runs on a fielder’s choice by Carlo Testa and a sacrifice fly by Brent Dean. 5-2 Wingnuts
With a 5-2 lead it looked like it was going to be a typical Wingnuts game. They give up some runs, then respond right back to take the lead and crush out their opponent. These Lemurs were not just any opponent however. The Lemurs have a potent lineup of their own and they proved that when they scored seven runs of their own in the top of the second.
Starter Frank Del Valle gave up a run, before getting two outs, and had a 5-3 lead. Then the Lemurs mounted a rally that eventually knocked Del Valle from the game. With runners on first and third, Travis Denker singled to plate one, and then John Alonso homered, his seventh of the year. The three-run homer put the Lemurs up 7-5, and they were not done. Bryon Wiley drew a walk and then JP Ramirez hit his 11th home run of the year to make it 9-5. It was a very “Wingnuts” like rally that put them on top. 9-5 Lemurs.
In the third Wichita added a run on a Carlo Testa single to make it 9-6. In the fourth, the Wingnuts were right back on the board with another huge rally. Chris McClendon and Khoury singled to lead-off the inning, and Jared McDonald followed with a double that scored both runners, and pulled Wichita within one. With one out the Wingnuts scored three more. Victor Diaz drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, Abel Nieves drove in their 10th run with a single to give Wichita the lead, and Testa drove home Nieves to make it 11-9 Wingnuts.
The Lemurs added a run in the sixth, and scored three more in the top of the seventh to retake the lead at 13-11. Time for another Wingnuts rally? You bet it was.
David Amberson singled to lead off the inning, and Brent Dean followed with his third home run of the season to make it 13 all. Lemurs’ reliever Estevan Uriegas gave up a double, but then retired the next two hitters. He had his chance to get out of the inning, but a walk to Espinosa kept the inning alive, and Jake Luce followed with a double to score two and restore the Wingnuts lead. One batter later Taylor Oldham reached on an error to score one more, and it was 16-13 Wichita.
In the eighth both teams scored a run, making the score 17-14. That meant that Wingnuts closer Dan Sattler would come in for the ninth to close the deal for Wichita. That was the plan, but the umpires were ready to throw a wrench into the plan. Sattler hit Nick Van Stratten, the first batter of the ninth. The umpires had warned both benches earlier in the game, and despite the fact that this was not an intentional move on Sattler’s part, he was out. The problem for Wichita was that they had used all of the relievers. Since Del Valle had not made it past the second inning, the bullpen had been thrust into action, and Sattler was the last reliever they had available. He was out, and the team did not want to use any of their starters, putting them at risk just before the playoffs.
That left them with just one choice – utility player Taylor Oldham. The scrappy 25-year-old was about to prove what a super sub he truly is. Pressed into service, he retired the heart of the Laredo lineup in order to preserve the 17-14 lead. It was Oldham’s first professional save and gave the Wingnuts their 72nd win of the year.
The Wingnuts once again found a way to pull out a victory. They have won pitcher’s duels, gained comeback victories, blown opponents out and won slugfests. Today they found a way to win a slugfest with their infielder pitching the most effective relief of the game. It was truly an unprecedented win for the Wingnuts, and has to leave the Lemurs wondering what they have to do to beat Wichita. Now they have just three days to figure out how to do it before the playoffs begin.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA