SIOUX CITY – This was supposed to be the six-game homestand that could maybe turn things around for a Sioux City Explorers baseball team ravaged by injuries.
With three games each with the Texas AirHogs and the Salina Stockade, teams sporting the two worst records in the 12-team American Association, this seemed like an oasis in the middle of the brutal schedule dumped on Manager Steve Montgomery’s team.
Still, after being outscored 48-9 in a losing streak that had reached four games Thursday night in Winnipeg, the X’s aren’t clicking on any cylinders, let alone all of them.
So, after the Association’s second lowest scoring team piled up 13 hits Friday night at Lewis and Clark Park, the AirHogs had an 8-4 victory and Sioux City’s skid reached a season-worst five games.
That didn’t really do justice, either, to the team from suburban Dallas that has won 10 of its last 13 games after sitting 18 games below .500 at 11-29. The fast-improving guests actually didn’t allow an earned run to a team that scored only four runs in the three-game Winnipeg series, getting blanked 12-0 Thursday.
The luck of this year’s X’s: After sputtering badly in the early going, losing 14 in row at one point and batting below .190 as a team for Manager Billy Martin Jr., Texas hit Sioux City on a roll that has featured some of the strongest pitching in the league
And, if you’re the Explorers, you can’t feel particularly optimistic about tonight and Sunday, facing T.J. Bozeman (2-4, 2.89 ERA) and Michael Freeman (3-1, 2.84) after losing this one to Jared Mortensen, who came into the game 3-1 with a 5.40 ERA.
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All three of those starters, incidentally, began the season in the bullpen for a team that has been getting just enough offense of late to start winning.
Make no mistake, the Hogs haven’t exactly been ripping the cover off the ball prior to ringing up nine of their 13 hits off lefthander Hobbs Johnson, who has been Sioux City’s most effective starter most of this season.
Indeed, only four times in 52 previous games had Texas, now 21-32, scored more than six runs in a game. And, three of those had come against that Salina club that had lost 46 of 52 games prior to Friday.
The X’s led 2-0 after one inning, 4-2 after two frames and still held a 4-3 edge when a two-run homer by Denis Phipps keyed a pivotal three run fifth for the AirHogs.
Phipps shared the Association home run title a year ago with 24, playing for Laredo. This was just his fifth of this season for a team that also got a two-run bomb in the second inning from Beamer Weems. Even those two gave them just 23, fewer than all but two Association rivals.
X’s Manager Steve Montgomery pointed to three errors by the makeshift lineup all the injuries have necessitated and made it No. 1 on a laundry list of concerns.
“You can’t commit three errors in a game,’’ said Montgomery, whose team has gone from 26-20 to 26-21 since Sunday. “You’re shorthanded now with (starter Alex) probably out for the season (see X’s and OH’s) and (reliever Todd) Eaton possibly out for the season.
“So, with 10 pitchers, you’re just costing people extra pitches. We’re not putting the ball where we want to. We’re throwing some bad pitches in bad counts and we’re getting hurt by ‘em. The biggest thing is try and come out tomorrow and try to put on a better show.’’