SIOUX CITY – The Sioux City Explorers weren’t licking their wounds over letting the explosive Winnipeg Goldeyes rally to win the first three games in a four-game sweep the previous three nights.
Facing another of the American Association’s three division leaders, the X’s had baserunners in all but one inning as a four-game series with the Wichita Wingnuts got under way Thursday night at Lewis and Clark Park.
Painful as really all four losses to Winnipeg’s North Division leaders had been, however, the Explorers were on the brink of literally throwing yet another game away. And, this one would have hurt worse than just about all 36 defeats they’ve absorbed 70 games into a 100-game schedule.
Stranding a whopping 14 baserunners in the first eight innings, 10 of those in scoring position, Manager Steve Montgomery’s team finally flipped that money off their back, scoring three times in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off, 5-4 victory.
Stringing together four hits and a walk with one away in the final half-inning, the X’s pulled it off when Tony Campana’s game-winning two-run single up the middle got him mobbed by teammates who aren’t throwing in the towel on a possible third consecutive playoff appearance.
The 14 left on base were already a season high before a dramatic rally that left the final count in that department at 16. It went down as a meaningless stat for a team that had actually won four of the five games in which they’d marooned the previous season high of 13.
“To battle all nine innings was great and it was good to see,’’ said Montgomery. “I don’t think this team has ever given up in any game, no matter what the score is. It’s a ‘W.’ Let’s move on to tomorrow and try to get tomorrow’s game.’’
Michael Lang and Tanner Vavra, hitting seventh and ninth in the order, each went 4-for-5, marking the first time this year the Explorers have had two players collect four hits in a game. Indeed, 12 of the 13 Sioux City hits in the game came from the last five batters on the lineup card.
Before Campana’s game-winning single, the hosts’ first four batters had gone 0-for-13, although they were far more useful than that, drawing seven of the eight walks issued by four Wichita pitchers.
Eudor Garcia’s one-out liner got past a diving centerfielder, Tyler Sullivan, for a rally-sparking double. Lang, who earlier stroked two singles and his fifth home run of the season, following with an RBI double to right-center, making it a one-run game.
Wingnuts’ closer Seth Harvey missed on a 3-2 pitch to Dre Gleason, drawing a walk. Then, second baseman Christian Stringer froze after fielding a bouncer by Vavra, waiting too long to make a play to prevent a bases-loaded jam.
The winning hit came on a 1-0 pitch to Campana, driving home Lang, who scored three times in the game, and pinch-runner Jonathan Gonzalez.
Starting pitchers Eddie Medina of the Wingnuts and Kramer Sneed for Sioux City both performed well without factoring in the decision. Medina led after six innings, trailing 2-1 on Lang’s fourth-inning homer and Vavra’s RBI triple in the sixth. Sneed, meanwhile, left that 2-1 lead on the board after gutting out seven innings with 125 pitches, a season-high for Explorer pitchers.
Rookie Ryan Flores was the likely candidate to draw the Friday night start for a shorthanded pitching staff. However, Montgomery went and got the hard-throwing youngster in the top of the eighth.
Flores had a little tough luck when Christian Stringer led off with a bouncer that glanced off the pitcher’s glove for an infield single. Then, he apparently grazed the shirt of veteran Brent Clevlen, a former major leaguer, putting two runners aboard with no outs.
The 4-5-6 hitters, three of the league’s finest, came next and Flores retired all three, striking out two of them. The unlucky part was that a slow infield bouncer let the Wingnuts tie the game 2-2. Then, getting ahead 0-2 on Martin Medina, the league’s leading hitter, Flores’ had his next pitch get away, letting Clevlen scoot home to give his team the lead.
Things looked even grimmer after Richard Prigatono rapped a leadoff single in the ninth, stole second and third, then delivered an insurance run on a ground ball.
The X’s inspired rally, though, turned the tide, preventing a team battered by adversity much of the season from matching a season-worst six-game losing streak and get back to 34-36 after falling three games under .500 for the first time.