Wichita Wingnuts Deliver Final Message Heading Into Post-Season: Wingnuts Wire
On Wednesday the Wichita Wingnuts and the Laredo Lemurs will open their playoff series in Laredo. In the last four games of the season the two got a dress rehearsal for the upcoming series, to have one last chance to feel each other out prior to the beginning of the post-season. The Wingnuts not only got to see their foe one more time in action, they got to send one last message – Catch us if you can.
The Wingnuts won their league record 73rd game Monday night, taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning, and then riding the outstanding pitching of newly acquired starter Celson Polanco on their way to a 4-1 win. The victory was their ninth in a row, and 17th of their last 18. Those 17 wins include seven against the Lemurs, who the Wingnuts beat seven times in the last eight games of the year. Clearly the Wingnuts have established that they are the team to beat, and are entering the playoffs as hot as a team could be.
All season long the Wingnuts have played baseball like expert masters, showing the other teams in the American Association the fundamentals of playing championship baseball. Monday night it was time for one last regular season lesson.
Wichita got on the board right away in the first. With two outs and Josh Strawn on the hill for Laredo, David Espinosa singled. Leading MVP candidate Brent Clevlen followed with a single and Abel Nieves doubled to drive in Espinosa and give the Wingnuts the 1-0 lead. The two-out rally was indicative of what makes the Wingnuts so dangerous. Their opponent thinks they have Wichita shutdown, and three batters later they are losing. That’s the Wingnuts University way of doing things.
In the fourth the Wingnuts got right back on the board. With one out Espinosa singled again. Clevlen then came to the plate, but this time instead of hitting a single to advance Espinosa, he blasted his 20th home run of the year to increase the lead to 3-0. It was just another impressive game by Clevlen, who finished off the victory going 2-3, and clinched the league batting title. His .372 average fell just .001 off the team record set by Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper in 2007.
Up 3-0, Kansas’ best baseball team was not done scoring in the frame. Carlo Testa reached on an error with two outs, and advanced to third on a single by Victor Diaz. Chris McMurray then walked to load the bases. That brought Chris McClendon to the plate. His knock found a hole and plated Testa with the unearned run to make the score 4-0.
In the fourth Laredo finally plated a run against Polanco. Polanco had retired the first nine batters of the game, but in the fourth he gave up singles to three of the first four batters of the inning. With one out, Devin Goodwin grounded to first with the bases loaded to score JP Ramirez and cut the deficit to three. That was the last run that Laredo would score on the season.
In the fifth he returned back to his dominant form, retiring the Lemurs in order, including striking out the last two batters of the inning. In the sixth he gave up a double and a walk, but retired the Lemurs without being scored upon again, to earn his first win as a Wichita Wingnuts pitcher. Polanco finished with just six hits and one walk, while striking out six. It was a great start for the 30-year-old, just four days after his birthday.
From there the bullpen took over. Daniel Bennett and Chase Johnson pitched the seventh and eighth innings, each allowing a hit. Dan Sattler came in to pitch the ninth, and a night after being ejected, Sattler closed out the inning for his 22nd save of the season, and third since being acquired by the Wingnuts.
With the victory, Wichita finished the sweep in what might have been the most dominant performance of the series. The Lemurs were never really in the game, because Polanco hand-cuffed them from the start. It was a great performance and gave Laredo one last lesson. The Wingnuts are incredibly hot right now, and the Lemurs have two days to figure how to stop this red-hot machine, if they can.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA