KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- American Association baseball’s two winningest teams will move to Lewis Clark Park with one win apiece as their best-of-five semifinal playoff showdown continues Friday night in Sioux City.
On the heels of a 4-1 win for the Sioux City Explorers in Tuesday’s series opener, the Kansas City T-Bones squared the series Wednesday night with a 4-2 cliffhanger over the team that won nine games more than anyone else in the 12-team league this season with a 71-29 mark.
Squandering one scoring opportunity after another, the X’s were unable to bring the series home with a 2-0 advantage, bowing to a Kansas City club that had the Association’s second best mark at 62-37.
Still, Manager Steve Montgomery was upbeat after watching his team leave a whopping 13 runners on base, stranding nine in scoring position in a loss that saw them outhit the winners 9-7.
“We didn’t come up with the big hit tonight, but we came down here and did what we wanted to do,’’ said Montgomery, who has led the Explorers to three playoff appearances in the last four seasons. “We wanted to split these games. Now, we’ve got to go home and take care of business Friday night. We’ve got a chance to really take charge of this series.’’
Dean Green and Michael Lang each had three-hit nights while Dylan Kelly rapped a pair of singles to account for all but one hit for the X’s, who set a league-record with their 39-11 road record over the 100-game slate that concluded on Monday.
Kansas City, though, got clutch pitching in a number of crucial situations as starter Hunter Adkins, who pitched for the Cincinnati Reds just last season, worked five solid innings.
Nailing it down, though, was the bullpen trio of Marcus Crescenti, lefthander Joe Filomeno and closer Cody Winiarski, combining to blank Sioux City over the final four innings. All three of them posted earned run averages well under 2.00 during the regular season with Crescenti at 1.32, Filomeno 1.31 and Winiarski 1.69.
“This is a very good team we’re playing,’’ said Kansas City Manager Joe Calfapietra, a 19-year veteran in his second season with the T-Bones. “We needed to win tonight. We couldn’t go to Sioux City down 0-2. The guys played well and we got a win.’’
Sioux City starter Jason Garcia, 3-0 with a 1.56 ERA in three starts since his X’s debut Aug. 19, struggled with control in the early going and he paid the price, allowing three runs in the second inning and another in the third as the T-Bones grabbed a 4-1 advantage.
The Explorers, meanwhile, couldn’t seem to buy a timely base hit while stranding 10 runners in the first five innings against Astin, seven of those left in scoring position.
Keith Curcio, whose 11 regular season homers made him one of three T-Bones in double-digits, led off the second inning with a home run to a short porch in right field for the game’s first run.
Alay Garcia followed, drawing the first of Garcia’s free passes and then Danny Hayes rapped a one-out single.
Anthony Phillips, No. 9 in the batting order, moved both runners over on a sacrifice bunt and then the hosts’ Ryan Brett did his part with a two-run single that made it a 3-0 lead.
Michael Lang’s one-out single and a walk to Nate Samson helped the Explorers get on the board with Keith Green’s two-out single in the top of the third.
However, the T-Bones got a gift-wrapped run in the next half-inning after Garcia walked the first two batters. Another sacrifice, this one by Adrian Nieto, moved the runners to second and third, then the X’s played the percentages, issuing an intentional walk to Curcio to load the bases with one out.
The move would have worked, too, but Lago’s tailor-made double play bouncer to the shortstop was bobbled by second baseman Jay Baum, unable to make the inning-ending relay, allowing Todd Cunningham to score the Bones’ fourth run.
The only other scoring was an unearned run for Sioux City in the top of the fourth as Lang took advantage of a one-out error by the T-Bones to plate Kelly with a two-out RBI single.
The Explorers stranded multiple baserunners in five different innings, leaving the sacks jammed in the fifth inning.
“We probably got a little too aggressive at the plate in the middle part of the game and chased some balls that were just off the plate,’’ said Montgomery, who will send Justin Vernia, the league’s rookie of the year, to the mound on Friday. “Balls that if we take, maybe it gets (Astin) behind the eight-ball a little bit. Now, he’s gotta come for the bigger part of the plate.
“But it’s been our nature. I’m not going to tell the guys to stop swinging the bat. They’ve done it all year. This is a veteran group. They know what this is about. It just wasn’t our night to come up with the big hit.’’
Elsewhere Wednesday night, after a rainout Tuesday, St. Paul blanked visiting Gary SouthShore 4-0 in Game 1 of the semifinal between the North Division’s two playoff hopefuls. The teams will forfeit the scheduled travel day Thursday to play Game 2 at CHS Field and then move to Gary on Friday for the rest of the series.