SIOUX CITY – In a major break with tradition, the fireworks that have always been a post-game treat came right at the start of the game Friday night at Lewis and Clark Park.
Figuratively speaking, that is.
Answering the Wichita Wingnuts’ quick 4-0 lead in the first half-inning, the Sioux City Explorers paraded home five runs in the bottom of the first and two more in a second-inning rally that actually saw them leave the bases loaded.
Just that fast, a 4-0 deficit turned into a 7-4 lead. Yet most of that was nearly forgotten as the X’s used some more ninth-inning heroics to score a wild 9-8, walk-off victory on a clutch one-out double by LeVon Washington.
Much like Thursday night’s 5-4 thriller in the series opener -- another welcome walk-off win for the snake-bitten Explorers -- a dramatic finish resulted in a gleeful mob scene. This one saw fleet Tony Campana leading the chase that eventually brought down the fleeing Washington for a celebratory pile-up in deep center field.
Knotted up at 7-7 after the Wingnuts scored twice in the eighth inning and once in the top of the ninth, the X’s started this game-changing scenario with a one-out, opposite field base single to left field by newcomer Eudor Garcia.
When Washington drilled a line drive that got past both outfielders in right-center field, the 6-foot, 250-pound Garcia lumbered like a freight train all the way from first base to home plate, barely beating the throw to score the winning run.
“I told myself I was just not going to miss a fastball and I got one,’’ beamed Washington, a former first-round major league draft pick who was in a nine-game, 1-for-27 skid when he turned on the first pitch he saw from reliever Mike Devine. “I hit it hard.’’
“As soon as I saw the ball off the bat I told myself, ‘You’re going all the way in,’ ‘’ said Garcia. “I didn’t even look at the ball. I knew I was going all the way in. As long as you get it done, that’s all that matters. I made it.’’
Garcia’s first home run for the Explorers followed Tyler Ogle’s round-tripper as the team’s first back-to-back jacks of the season tied the game 4-4 in the first inning. Campana had started it off with one of his masterful bunt singles, scoring on the first of two doubles in the game by Joe Bennie.
Ogle’s two-run bomb to left-center and Garcia’s blast to right field were followed by another first-inning run on a walk to Washington and a two-out double by Dre Gleason.
After their two second-inning runs, the hosts were not to score again until the eighth. Meanwhile, spot starter Keith Picht and fellow reliever Brad Orosey held a Wichita team that leads the league in batting to a single run in six innings from the second through the seventh.
Orosey tired in the eighth, his fourth inning of a season-high 55-pitch outing, and the Wingnuts took advantage with two runs, one of them unearned as the X’s committed two errors in the frame.
The Explorers took back an 8-7 lead when Tanner Vavra drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the eighth and scored on Campana’s double into the left-field corner.
The X’s, though, were fortunate their P.J. Francescon, got out of the top of the ninth with an 8-8 tie, limiting the Wingnuts to one run on two hits and a just the fifth and sixth walks of the season for the weary closer.
“We’re just hanging by a threat in our bullpen,’’ said X’s Manager Steve Montgomery, whose team pulled within a game of .500 at 35-36. “They’re all overworked right now.’’
Wichita, making its first regular season visit to Sioux City, slipped to 43-26 and has all but locked up a postseason appearance as the American Association’s runaway South Division leader.
The teams meet again Saturday at 7:05 p.m. and Sunday night at 6:05 in the series finale.