The Winnipeg Goldeyes and Wichita Wingnuts are both leading their divisions, but now Winnipeg finds themselves precariously holding onto first place in the North Division, while Wichita has moved their lead into double-digits. The 10-3 Wingnuts win was a microcosm of the way the two teams are playing, and further demonstrates to the whole league that Wichita may not have any other team that is in the same class as them.
After winning a series of close games over the last three days, Kansas’ finest got to work early to put this one away. With one out Jake Kahaulelio, who has three hits in the game, singled to right field. He advanced to second on a single by David Espinosa and scored when likely league MVP Brent Clevlen singled to center field to make it 1-0. Carlo Testa then followed with a three-homer, his seventh of the year, and just five batters into the game the Wingnuts had a 4-0 lead.
In the top of the second Jake Luce reached on an error by right fielder Sam Kimmel. One out later Kahaulelio doubled to score Luce. That RBI gave the second baseman 55 on the season, ranked seventh in the league, and his three hits raised his average to .330, ranked 12th.
The Goldeyes were not ready to roll over by any stretch of the imagination however. In the bottom of the fourth they got three back. Jason Van Skike was pitching for the first time since being rocked by the Saints last Saturday. He was pitching well until the fourth, when he found himself in a bit of trouble from the inning’s start. Casey Haerther led off with an infield single, and advanced to third on a double by Reggie Abercrombie. Luis Alen grounded to short, scoring Haerther, and the Goldeyes were on the board. Jake Blackwood came to plate, and on a 1-1 pitch he launched a two-run home run that cut the lead to 5-3. It was Blackwood’s fifth home run of the year.
If Manager Kevin Hooper was concerned he didn’t show it. His ace had been staked to a lead in St. Paul last weekend, only to get roughed up once he gave up his first hit. It was looking like déjà vu, but not today. Van Skike would give up two more hits in the inning, but finally retired Donnie Webb to the end the inning, and preserve the two-run lead.
The Goldeyes were probably feeling pretty good about the comeback, but then Wichita did what they do best – respond. When a team puts up runs against them, no team is better in the league at scoring in their next at-bats, and that is what the Wingnuts did to the tune of four runs.
Kahaulelio began the fifth with a single, and David Espinosa and Brent Clevlen then walked to load the bases. It was clear that Goldeyes starter Jonathan Sintes did not have his best stuff, and he was relieved by Taylor Bratton. The move did not stop the tide however. Bratton struck out Carlo Testa but Chris McMurray followed with his fifth home run of the year, a grand slam that virtually put the game away.
McMurray finished 2-4 with a run and four RBI. It was the catcher’s sixth two-hit game in his last ten starts and has helped to raise his average 22 points from .250 to .272. During the run he has gone 16-40 (.400) with eight runs scored and 12 RBI.
The Wingnuts would close out their scoring when Clevlen singled home Kahaulelio in the sixth to make it 10-3. Clevlen had another hot night at the plate, going 2-4 with two runs and two RBI, which raised his average to .359, third best in the American Association. His 59 runs now rank fourth in the league and his 61 RBI puts him second. Even his 13 home runs rank him in the top eight. He is having an MVP caliber season that is igniting the Wingnuts each and every night.
Van Skike was the winner, moving his record to 9-3. His nine wins are second best behind teammate Jon Link and his 3.19 ERA is ranked eighth.
The Wingnuts are in complete command in the South now. They are 9-1 in their last ten, including a five game win streak. They have a 10.5 game lead over Laredo and are closing in on their division crown.
Winnipeg is in real trouble however. The Saints slumped coming out of the All-Star break and gave the Goldeyes the chance to put St. Paul in the rearview mirror, however, they failed to do this. Now they are slumping and St. Paul has won their last three to pull back within two games.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA