SIOUX CITY – The losses are hurting more and more these days, but the Sioux City Explorers are still only 1.5 games out of first place in what seems to be the American Association’s strongest of three divisions.
As the Kansas City T-Bones finished off a three-game series sweep with a 6-4 triumph Sunday evening, the Explorers saw a losing streak reach four games for the first time this season.
With a highly makeshift lineup saddled with some serious limitations, it was about as frustrating as they come for the injury-ravaged X’s. And, those frustrations bubbled over when pitching coach Bobby Post was ejected in the top of the fifth inning and Manager Steve Montgomery followed him to the clubhouse in the next half-inning.
The red-hot T-Bones, who’ve won six out of seven since losing the first three games of a four-game series with Sioux City last week, climbed into a tie for first place in a Central Division race that has nothing but winning records.
The Bones, despoiling the 12-4 home record the X’s hoped to build on after a solid 5-5 mark on a challenging road trip, improved to 24-17. That’s now the same as a Lincoln team that has lost six of seven and had a Sunday contest with Fargo-Moorhead rained out.
Gary SouthShore, 24-19, moved past Sioux City, 22-18 with three fewer games in the books, as both remained fast on the frontrunners’ heels.
For the moment, though, the T-Bones’ kharma was soaring even more than the Explorers’ was seemingly tanking.
It certainly wasn’t the mindset Montgomery’s team needed with the season’s two biggest crowds anticipated for Monday and Tuesday, when post-game fireworks follow the first two games in a three-game series with St. Paul’s North Division leaders.
Facing talented righthander Matt Sergey, the X’s had their hands rather full, bidding to prevent getting swept in a home series for the first time this year. Sergey had earned a contract from Oakland last July after going putting up a dazzling 0.56 ERA in 10 starts with now-defunct Laredo – a stretch starting with three late-season starts for Laredo’s 2015 league champs.
Then again, the Explorers were sending out lefthander Hobbs Johnson, fourth in the Association with a 2.58 ERA in seven previous starts. And they gave Johnson a quick 2-0 lead after Sergey retired only one of the first four batters he faced, plunking one and walking another to load the bases.
Rookie Dylan Kelly came through with a clutch two-out, two-run single for the hosts, but the T-Bones then scored three times between a pair of rallies featuring extra-base hits by Jordan Edgerton.
Edgerton was credited with a leadoff triple in the second inning when rightfielder Jayce Ray got turned around on a likely fly ball out and the recently acquired K.C. third baseman got his team on the board with Chantz Mack’s ensuing ground ball.
Then, in the fourth, a leadoff walk to Joe Jackson was followed by Edgerton’s RBI double. A bloop single sandwiched between two more walks forced home a go-ahead run that made it a 3-2 contest. Remarkably, when an infield flare to shortstop Nate Samson was followed by a comebacker to Johnson for an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play, it was still anyone’s ball game.
The X’s knotted things up 3-3 in the fifth with a one-out bloop single by Ray, a two out single by LeVon Washington and then a double into the right-field corner by Kelly. Ray easily scored, but Washington seemed to hesitate as he rounded third and was ruled out at the plate on a controversial call that ended Montgomery’s night.
Post had exited in the previous half-inning, frustrated with home plate umpire Trevor Gibson’s strike zone. So, neither Montgomery nor Post were around when three unearned runs in the top of the seventh wound up spelling the difference.
No. 9 hitter Eddie Newton, leading it off, reached with an error charged on a sharply hit bouncer to third. Then, when Omar Garcia successfully stayed with the sacrifice bunt strategy on reliever Ryan Flores’ 1-2 pitch, the rookie pitcher threw wildly to first base.
Marcus Lemon loaded the bases on a solid single, one of three hits for former major leaguer Chet Lemon’s son. After that, Kyle Petty’s RBI single sent the Bones in front and they scored twice more on a double-play grounder and a base knock for Edgerton, finishing a home run short of a cycle.
Kansas City gave back a run after Tony Campana reached on an error to open the bottom of the seventh. A stolen base and Ray’s second base hit pulled the X’s within 6-4. But that would be it in a game that had a somewhat appropriate finish when Campana led off the ninth with an infield single, only to be doubled off first on Nate Samson’s fly ball to right field.