SIOUX CITY -- The Sioux City Explorers collected a much-needed win, scoring the first seven runs of a key series opener with the Kansas City T-Bones Thursday night at Lewis and Clark Park.
However, just to remind the X’s of how dangerous they are, the T-Bones erased most of a 7-0 deficit, plating five eight-inning runs before falling short in what turned out to be a 7-5 cliffhanger.
James Dykstra pitched seven shutout innings in the first of four games between American Association baseball’s two winningest teams. Meanwhile, Nate Samson and Daniel Jackson were the offensive stars for a Sioux City team trying to rebound from a three-game sweep at the hands of the Wichita Wingnuts.
Samson, the 2016 league MVP, had his first four-hit game of the season, delivering a two-run double as the Explorers jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning. However, an end to the X’s first three-game losing streak couldn’t have happened without Jackson’s three-run homer to make it 7-0 in the sixth frame.
“The way they have come back on us, a lot like we have on other teams, that was in the back of my mind the whole time,’’ said X’s Manager Steve Montgomery, whose team regained a 7.5-game lead over Kansas City in a South Division race between the league’s top three teams record-wise.
Wichita, idle Thursday night, is third in the division and also the 12-team league standings at 47-29, now 9.5 games behind.
“You want to play the game and you don’t want to show up anyone, but at what point, because of that reason right there, do we shut our running game down?’’ said Montgomery, whose team is now 57-20 while Kansas City slipped to 49-27. “You gotta give credit to Joe (Calfapietra, the T-Bones’ manager) and those players over there for not giving up and coming back.’’
With Calfapietra’s starting rotation in the midst of an overhaul, the Explorers took advantage of rookie spot starter Adam Bleday to grab their early 4-0 lead. Batting around against the lefthander, the X’s scored four times on three hits, two walks and a pair of errors.
It was still 4-0, though, when Francisco Gracesqui, the guests’ third pitcher of the night, took the mound in the sixth inning. Dexture McCall worked a leadoff walk, Dylan Kelly followed with a base hit and then Jackson launched a drive that left the park in center field, more than 400 feet from home plate.
It was the first homer of the season for Jackson, who went deep 11 times during his college career at Long Beach State.
In the meantime, Dykstra sailed along against a potent Kansas City lineup that ranks second to the X’s in the league batting statistics. The 27-year-old San Diego native surrendered just three singles and one walk before exiting with his 7-0 advantage.
“I did the scouting report with (pitching coach) Bobby Post and D.K. (catcher Dylan Kelly) and we just kind of executed our game plan,’’ said Dykstra, who threw only 85 pitches in his third strong outing in a row since leaving three straight starts early with blister problems.
“I could have gone back out, but we just thought it would be better (to not continue, risking more issues with the blisters),’’ said Dykstra.
“Helluva game by Dykstra,’’ said Montgomery. “To shut that lineup down the way he did (is) very, very positive for him moving forward and for us moving forward.
“We got smacked in the mouth three games and we had to respond and respond against a team that is right on our heels. So, that’s a big win.’’
Parker Markel, a flamethrower who has reached the Triple-A ranks, failed to retire any of the five batters he faced after taking over in the eighth. Markel surrendered four straight base hits and then a bases-loaded walk before Patrick Schuster, a major league veteran, was summoned to take over.
Schuster, who has a 1.07 ERA, was unable to prevent three inherited baserunners from scoring, surrendering a two-run single by Colin Walsh, the first batter he faced. The veteran lefty, though, retired three of the next four batters, one on a sacrifice fly that made it a two-run contest.
In the ninth, Sioux City closer Eric Karch gave up Ryan Brett’s one-out double on a sharp bouncer down the left-field line before coming up with his 12th save in his last 12 appearances and his 19th overall. Dexture McCall’s nifty scoop of a low throw from second baseman Jay Baum provided the final out.