SIOUX CITY – They’re the defending American Association champions and it would certainly be no surprise to see the Winnipeg Goldeyes make that back-to-back titles.
The Sioux City Explorers saw it in a three-game thrashing July 11-13 at Shaw Park, where they were outscored by an astonishing 37-4 margin.
Now, they’ve seen it another two nights in Sioux City.
The difference here at Lewis and Clark Park is the X’s, with all the adversity they’ve faced, had victory within sight two games in a row before late-inning heroics by the explosive Goldeyes dealt them a couple of baseball haymakers.
For the second night in a row, it was 37-year-old Reggie Abercrombie demonstrating why he’s still playing baseball nearly a decade after the 180 major league games in which he appeared for the Marlins (2006-07) and the Astros (2008).
Monday night saw the Explorers take a 4-2 lead into the ninth inning even though Kevin McCanna, their scheduled starting pitcher, had to be scratched after signing with the Seattle Mariners. Abercrombie’s two-run homer capped a three-run rally off closer P.J. Francescon and Winnipeg later wound up winning 7-5, scoring twice in the 10th without benefit of a hit.
Tuesday, after the first of two scheduled seven-inning games was delayed almost 90 minutes by the threat of thunderstorms, it looked as though the injury-riddled Explorers were going to counter-punch, grabbing a 5-1 lead on rookie Dre Gleason’s three-run homer in the fourth inning.
If you hadn’t seen it Monday, you would never have guessed that same lead, which still stood as the sixth-inning began, would somehow turn into a 9-5 Winnipeg victory. But that was the painful verdict after back-to-back four-run innings featuring another two-run blast in the sixth frame by Abercrombie and then a tie-breaking grand slam by Shawn Pleffner in the seventh.
Game 2 of the doubleheader was a little more of the same, suspended by the league’s midnight curfew with Winnipeg leading 5-2 after a four-run fifth inning that saw leadoff man Andrew Sohn became the Goldeyes’ fourth player with double-digit home runs. The final two innings of that contest, or whatever is necessary, will begin at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday, followed by the scheduled nine-inning series finale.
“What can you do?’’ shrugged a discouraged Steve Montgomery, Sioux City’s fourth-year manager. “I had to start a reliever (Keith Picht) last night and (reliever Brad) Orosey went out there tonight when he needed another day off. I have nobody else.’’
The second doubleheader in three days was certainly not a popular subject with the Explorers, who already played a pair Sunday to make up for the Sioux Falls Canaries’ rained out home opener on May 20.
This one? Well, this one resulted from Winnipeg’s request to postpone a June 8 series finale here because too many players had apparently fallen ill. In the history of professional sports, that request alone would have warranted quite a snicker. What wasn’t so funny was the league’s decision to accede to Goldeyes Manager Rick Forney’s wishes – the reason for Tuesday’s second contest.
The Explorers drew first blood Tuesday after Tony Campana rapped a leadoff single and raced all the way to third on pitcher Mikey O’Brien’s errant pickoff throw. Joe Bennie’s grounder to third was enough for the fleet Campana to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
Two innings later, Gleason drew a leadoff walk, Tanner Vavra was hit by a pitch, Campana bounced into a force out and another ground ball by Bennie drove home a second Sioux City run.
Winnipeg loaded the bases on two walks and a base hit in the top of the fourth before X’s starter Cody Forsythe walked slugger David Bergin on five pitches, forcing home a run. Forsythe followed with a strikeout, though, to leave the bases loaded.
Then, in the bottom of the fourth, a leadoff walk to Tyler Ogle and a one-out single by Michael Lang had two runners aboard when Gleason, a rookie out of Austin Peay, walloped his three-run homer over the right-field wall.
That’s how it stood until Forsythe ran out of gas in the sixth, surrendering a leadoff single by David Rohm and an RBI double by Josh Romanski. Up stepped Abercrombie, whose second two-run homer in as many nights gave him 13 for the season and 112 for his eight seasons in this league – 22 more than anyone else.
The X’s remained in front by a far more tenuous 5-4 margin, but they’d likely have taken that into the seventh, considering the last three batters to face Forsythe sandwiched strikeouts around a pop fly to right center by Bergin. Unfortunately, outfielders Campana and Lang both lost the ball in the lights and Bergin raced all the way to third as an easy out became a triple.
Even more unfortunately, after Forsythe fanned Mason Katz, Orosey came on to put Jordan Ebert in a 0-2 hole, only to uncork a wild pitch that tied the game 5-5.
Hitless over the final three innings and matching a season-low three hits for the game, the Explorers were stymied by relievers Evan Rutckyj and Ryan Chaffee.
The Goldeyes were quite a different story as Andrew Sohn poked a one-out single through the middle in the top of the seventh and took third on a single by Rohm, awarded second base on an interference call. After an intentional walk to Romanski filled the bases, Abercrombie failed to deliver an encore, lifting a fly ball Lang ran down in shallow right field. With two outs, though, Pleffner promptly launched the next pitch over the right-field wall to slam the door.