A Lesson in Comebacks Guides Wichita Wingnuts to 6-5 Win: Wingnuts Wire
For all intense and purposes, the Wichita Wingnuts had no business winning Tuesday night’s game. They were dominated by AirHogs starter Danny Gutierrez for seven innings, and simply couldn’t muster any kind of offense whatsoever. Gutierrez left after seven with a 2-0 lead, giving up just five hits and two walks, while striking out nine Wingnuts hitters. The Wingnuts simply had nothing going, that is for seven innings they didn’t.
What seems to be forgotten by some teams when they play the Wichita Wingnuts is that this is a nine inning game. The team is happy to let you lead for seven innings, they are happy to let you lead for eight. However, when the ninth inning concludes they expect to be in front, and this is what they did Wednesday night.
For the second straight night, the Wichita Wingnuts had a lesson for the Grand Prairie AirHogs, and this night its primary focus was on how to make a comeback to turn a loss into a win. They not only showed how to do this once in this game, but actually did it twice.
Wingnuts starter Tim Brown pitched extremely well in this game. He gave up just five hits, a walk and two earned runs in seven innings, but his team had no answers for Gutierrez. They simply could not put a rally together, and so Brown was looking like he was going to be the hard-luck loser. That is exactly how it was going to be until the AirHogs starter reached 107 pitches and he was done for the night.
Out went Gutierrez, in came Trevor Harden. What Grand Prairie didn’t likely consider was that with Gutierrez’s departure the ability to control the Wingnuts bats also left. It didn’t take long to learn this lesson however.
Wichita immediately got on the board. Jake Luce singled and Ryan Khoury followed with a walk. One out later David Espinosa singled to load the bases and bring Victor Diaz to the plate. It was a big chance for the cleanup hitter to be the hero, but before he got that chance, Harden threw a wild pitch that scored Luce, moving the other two into scoring position. One pitch later Diaz laced a double into the gap, scoring the two base runners, and after taking seven innings to get five hits against Gutierrez, the Wingnuts were able to get three in just one-third of an inning.
A 2-0 deficit was now a 3-2 lead and the Wingnuts had to feeling pretty good about themselves as they turned the game over to Chris Peacock. What may not have been considered at the time is that Grand Prairie had watched the Wingnuts battle back to respond right away twice the previous night; they felt ready to put this teaching into practice and that is what they did.
Alex Nunez doubled and one out later scored on a single by Jason Botts that tied the score. Peacock then struck out Brian Myrow for the second out, and it looked like the Wichita would enter the ninth in a tie game, but Matthew Burns had other ideas. The first pitch that Peacock threw to the third baseman, Burns deposited over the wall for his fourth home run of the year. Now it was the Wingnuts who gave up the late runs, and saw a lead evaporate nearly as quickly as they created it. Now it was time for the shoe to be on the other foot – for Wichita to learn what it was like to have a lead and then see it dissipate, and to have a clear win turned into a loss. That is what Grand Prairie wanted the Wingnuts to experience. Unfortunately it would be the AirHogs seeing this happen to them one more time.
Former Wingnuts closer Alex Hinshaw came in to close out the game for Grand Prairie. Chris McMurray started off the inning by hitting a high popup that Nunez dropped for an error, allowing McMurray to reach base. Jared McDonald then drew a walk. Luce laid down a perfect bunt to advance the runners to second and third, but on the play Hinshaw wildly threw to first in an attempt to get Luce, allowing McMurray to score. The AirHogs lead was now 5-4 with Khoury coming to the plate. He hit a comebacker to the mound that rolled slowly back to the closer, giving Hinshaw just one play – throwing to first to get Khoury and tying the game.
This inning was not over by any stretch of the imagination however. With Abel Nieves at the plate, Luce ran for the third on the first pitch from Hinshaw. He slid in safely, but the throw from catcher Brain Peterson went into left field, allowing Luce to score from third and give the Wingnuts the 6-5 lead. Luce’s stolen base was the 165th by Wichita, setting an American Association record for most stolen bases by a team in one season. This broke the mark set by the Gary Southshore RailCats in 2012. While that was a nice record for the team, most importantly was the fact that the Wingnuts were in the lead, as Luce manufactured a run to give his team the advantage.
The Wingnuts showed this night why they are such a tough team to play against. In the ninth they scored three runs and never hit the ball out of the infield once before Luce came across the plate. This just shows how amazing the Wingnuts can be, finding different ways to win each and every night.
In the ninth Wichita turned to Chase Johnson, giving closer Dan Sattler the night off. Johnson breezed through a 1-2-3 ninth on 15 pitches, even striking out Eric Baker for the second out of the inning. It was Johnson’s first save of the season. Chris Peacock was the winner, getting his second victory in as many appearances. Alex Hinshaw took the loss to drop to 2-1.
The four-game sweep of Grand Prairie gives Wichita 69 wins on the season with four left to go. Laredo comes to town now to start a four-game set, with the Wingnuts staring a record 70-win season in the face.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA