SIOUX CITY -- As if these Sioux City Explorers hadn’t earned enough exclamation marks, Thursday night was beyond them all.
Michael Lang became the X’s career hits leader, RBI machine Jay Baum drove in five runs and recently acquired lefthander Ian McKinney pitched six shutout innings in a staggering 13-1 trouncing of the Cleburne Railroaders that marked the American Association leaders’ sixth win in seven games.
Exceeding a previous season high of 17 hits, the Explorers (47-16) put up 21 in this one, collecting three or more in five of the first six innings. Meanwhile, the second start for McKinney saw the former St. Louis Cardinals’ farmhand allow just two hits while recording 11 of his 18 outs on strikes.
“Offensively, we hit ‘em pretty early and then were able to stretch it,’’ said Montgomery, whose team scored four times in the first inning and then plated five more runs in the third. “We never took our foot off the gas.
“Pitching-wise, McKinney kept the ball off the big part of the plate. We liked his stuff when we first saw his resume, per se. His stuff will play and we got him up to 102 pitches tonight. He’ll have six days to recover.’’
Lang entered the game needing three more hits to overtake Nolan Lane’s franchise-record 529 and he got those in his first three at-bats. Moreover, Lang already had yet another hit in the bank from the suspended game that will be completed before Friday’s scheduled series opener with the Lincoln Saltdogs.
Baum came into the game with 56 runs batted in, leading the American Association by five already before a two-run double in the first inning, a two-run single in the third and an RBI base knock in the fourth hiked his season total to 61.
Not only that but the second baseman who broke the Australian League record for batting last winter, went on to make it a 5-for-5 night, joining Luis Durango as the only Explorer with a five-hit game this season.
Durango,though, was 5-for-7 and the X’s batted in all nine innings of a 20-10 road win June 30 over Wichita, the widest margin of victory prior to this game.
Lang, only the second position player to log six seasons in Sioux City, will be joined by Lane, the other, for a presentation between the suspended game and tonight’s scheduled contest, which will be shortened to seven innings. Lane, who played here for the team’s first six seasons, flew into Sioux Gateway Airport late Thursday night.
Lang had infield singles in his first three at-bats, getting the record-breaker in the fifth inning.
“I was very happy to get the actual (record hit) tonight instead of waiting till tomorrow,’’ said Lang. a 29-year-old from Dumont, N.J., who starred at Rutgers University. “It’s pretty cool. After I didn’t get drafted my senior year of college, I didn’t have anywhere to play. The following season is when Sioux City gave me my opportunity and I’ll be forever grateful for that.’’
Lang’s wife, expecting the couple’s first child this fall, has been here all season, but two more delighted spectators making the trip for this week’s homestand were his parents, Dave and Diane. They originally planned to leave after the Cleburne series, but postponed their return flight to New Jersey until Saturday.
“There’s two words,’’ said X’s Manager Steve Montgomery, reflecting on Lang’s achievement. “Dedication is one and that’s to our philosophy on how to play the game. The other is commitment -- commitment to this organization, to this coaching staff, to this city.
“He could have gone anywhere this off-season. It was the first time he’s been a free agent and I let him alone. I didn’t call him or text him and he called me and wanted to come here. It shows you want kind of person he is. He’s a very loyal kid.’’
Baum didn’t mind having a big night be overshadowed by Lang.
“That an awesome accomplishment for Mike, it’s cool I got to witness it,’’ said the Clemson product who hit a record .439 in the Australian League. The league, which has sent 31 players to the major leagues in less than 10 seasons, plays a 40-game schedule spread over 10 weeks with a Thursday through Sunday format.
Durango and Jose Sermo joined Lang with three-hit performances and McKinney gave way to newcomer Dominic Topoozian, who got credit for a save by working the final three innings and allowing only one run and two hits. Topoozian also added five strikeouts to McKinney's total, giving the X's a season-high 16.
The win completed a four-game series sweep over the hard-luck Railroaders, who are 1-9 this year against Sioux City and 20-43 overall, losing their last seven in a row. The homestand shifts to what will amount to a four-game weekend series against Lincoln, which has a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning of the game suspended a week ago last Sunday.