SIOUX CITY -- You didn’t need to be Isaac Newton to realize the Sioux City Explorers’ bullpen couldn’t keep dominating the way they had in the first 10 games. The unwritten laws of baseball gravity told you that.
Still, it has been nearly as remarkable the way that relief corps has come unglued in three subsequent contests -- even with a 7-6, 10-inning win in one of those.
When starter Keith Picht exited after six innings Wednesday night at Lewis and Clark Park, he turned a 2-1 lead over to a bullpen that had allowed only five earned runs in 38 2/3 innings in those first 10 games, a remarkable 1.16 ERA.
The very next inning, though, saw three different pitchers surrender a whopping nine runs and suddenly the Kansas City T-Bones were on their way to a 10-2 blowout, saddling the Explorers with their first back-to-back losses of the young American Association season.
Even with their third loss in four games since an 8-1 start, Manager Steve Montgomery’s X’s were still the South Division leader at 9-4, a half-game in front of the T-Bones and Wichita, both improving to 8-4.
“We got hit with a haymaker last night,’’ said Montgomery, whose team blew a 6-2 lead and lost 7-6 after Kansas City chased home five runs in the ninth inning. “Tonight, we got hit with another one. You’ve got to pick yourself off the canvas, you know? It’s either you lay down tomorrow (series finale) or you come back.
“Those men in the lockerroom (the Explorers) aren’t sitting in there all happy. They’re pretty upset with what’s going on, so hopefully we come out tomorrow and have a good game.’’
Prior to the opener in this four-game series on Monday, Sioux City relievers had strung together a spectacular 26 consecutive scoreless innings. In three games since the T-Bones got to town, however, that same staff has been blasted for 12 earned runs in nine total innings for a 12.00 ERA.
As if it mattered, four of the guests’ nine seventh-inning runs were unearned as Manager Joe Calfapietra’s team put together six hits with two walks, a hit batsman and an error. One of the worst innings ever endured by the X’s in their 26-year history saw 13 batters parade to the plate as the hosts’ tenuous 2-1 lead, a lead that had stood since the second inning, became a distant memory.
Jay Austin followed Michael Lang’s one-out single with a triple that essentially gave the Explorers a 2-0 head start in a promising first inning. After Austin drove in Lang, Nate Samson’s ground ball brought the second run home.
The 2-0 lead weather a Nick Torres homer to start the second inning and that was all the scoring as Picht and the visitors’ Luis Paula dueled impressively for six innings.
The nine runs in the seventh were more than the Explorers allowed in an single inning last season, when the most any opponent scored in any stanza was eight. That happened twice and they happened, believe it or not, in the first two innings of a 16-2 loss last July 11 in Winnipeg.
“We’re keeping the game manageable and then there’s just one big inning,’’ said Montgomery. We’re still a pretty darned good team, it’s just things haven’t gone our way the last couple of nights.
“Credit them. They’re spoiling our two-strike pitches and they’re getting themselves back in the count, laying off some quality pitches. Some pitches aren’t going our way and they’re not missing the pitches they should hit.’’
Johnny Davis, who stole 52 bases for Class AA Biloxi (Miss.) last season, had a three-hit night from the leadoff spot and the T-Bones also got three hits each from No. 3 hitter Dylan Tice and the slugging Torres, the league leader in doubles with nine.
Lang accounted for three of just seven hits for the Explorers, limited to just the two first-inning runs by Paula and a pair of relievers. Paula, though, left the game with two outs in the seventh inning, suffering what looked to be an elbow injury.
The Thursday night series finale precedes a six-game road trip to Texas and Cleburne starting Friday night in the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie. That begins a 28-game stretch in which the Explorers play only nine more times at home prior to July 2 -- three of those in a weekend series starting next Friday with Grand Prairie’s Texas AirHogs.