T.J. Mittelstaedt Walk-Off Homer Leads Wingnuts Comeback, 5-4
The Wichita Wingnuts have had trouble with the Joplin Blasters all season long, and it looked like it would be the same thing Monday night as the Blasters jumped out to an early 4-0 lead through six-innings. However, the Wingnuts refused to go gentle into that good night, scoring two-runs in seventh and eighth innings, before T.J. Mittelstaedt homered with two-outs in ninth to send Wichita to the 5-4 victory. That helped the team to maintain their four-game lead over the Laredo Lemurs in the South Division of the American Association.
Things got off to a good start for the Joplin Blasters against Wichita starter Jesse Pratt. In the top of the second, Alex Polston singled with one out and Axel Johnson followed with a single to left that moved Polston to third. A ground out by Sergio Leon scored Polston to give Joplin the 1-0 lead and Mitch Glasser followed with a double that brought in Johnson. Geraldo Valentin, who had been named the American Association Player of the Week earlier in the day, followed with a single up the middle, and the Blasters left the second inning up by three.
In the fifth they extended that lead. Glasser walked to start the frame and moved to second on a single by Valentin. Glasser would then steal third and scored on a sacrifice fly by Mark Krueger. That made it 4-0.
The Wingnuts had done very little against Joplin starter Mario Morales through the first six-frames. He gave up two hits in the first, but then allowed just three more through the next five-innings. It was an outstanding outing that was leaving the host team looking for answers, but they found those answers in the seventh.
Martin Medina led off the inning with Wichita’s first extra base hit of the night, a double to left field. Two batters later Christian Stringer drilled a ball to the wall in center that he legged into a triple. Medina scored and it was 4-1. Morales was then replaced by Alberto Castillo who closed out the inning, but not before a ground out by Zack Cox scored Stringer to pull the Wingnuts within two.
In the eighth, Castillo retired the first batter of the inning, but he was then replaced by Carlos Fuentes. Matt Chavez greeted the new reliever with a base hit, and Nick Van Stratten followed with a double that moved Chavez to third. Harrison Kain was the next batter, and he lined a single into left that scored both runners to tie the score.
It was an amazing comeback that was only going to get better. Frankie Reed kept the game tied through the top of the ninth, setting up the dramatic bottom half. Keith Pricht come on with one out in the inning and retired Brent Clevlen for the second out. That brought up Mittelstaedt who entered the ninth 0-3. He worked the count full before fouling off a pitch to stay alive. The next one he crushed, drilling it over the right-center field fence for the walk-off homerun to give the Wichita Wingnuts the 5-4 victory.
Reed (6-3) earned the victory with a scoreless ninth. Pricht (1-4) took the loss.
Chavez continues to remain hot, going 3-4 with a run scored. In his last two games he is 7-10 with 3-runs scored and 5-RBI. Stringer finished 2-4 with a run and an RBI. Kain drove in 2. Valentin was 3-5 for Joplin with an RBI. Glasser was 2-3 with 2-runs and an RBI.
Game 2 of this four-game set is tomorrow night. Anthony Capra (0-3, 9.46) goes to the mound for Wichita looking of his first win of the season. He will be opposed by Alex De La Cruz (2-5, 5.42). Game time is 7:05.
By Robert Pannier