SIOUX CITY -- As outstanding as this 2018 season has been for the Sioux City Explorers, there have been more than a few nights when things just haven’t seemed to add up.
Thursday night was definitely one of those as a Sioux City team with easily the best record in American Association baseball suffered a frustrating 6-5 loss to the struggling Sioux Falls Canaries.
A pair of late-inning rallies saw the X’s slash a 6-1 deficit to a single run with three runs in the seventh and another in the eighth.
Still, the X’s left four more runners on base, three of them in scoring position, as they fell short against a team that entered the night a whopping 30.5 games behind them in the overall league standings.
Sporting a 65-23 record coming into the first game of a three-game series with their I-29 rivals, the Explorers were tripped up by a longtime rival with a 35-54 record.
“We had chances to win the game, it just didn’t work out,’’ said Sioux City Manager Steve Montgomery. “It’s just the game of baseball, I guess.’’
Veteran righthander Jake Esch, now 8-4, stymied Montgomery’s team for the first six innings, allowing just one run on five hits before tiring in the seventh. Esch, who began the season with his hometown St. Paul Saints, has reached the major leagues briefly in the last two seasons, pitching for the Marlins and the Padres.
“Obviously, he’s a big-league guy for a reason,’’ said Montgomery, unable to coach third base due to a painful back injury. “He’s either really good or he’s off. Today, he threw the ball well.’’
With a string of six straight quality starts and a chance to match the league high for wins, Sioux City starter Luis Mateo (10-5) was rocked for three consecutive hits in the second and third innings as the Canaries grabbed a quick 5-0 advantage.
Coming off a six-game road trip with five victories, the Explorers continued to perform decidedly worse at home than they have on the road. With the season’s fourth worst crowd of 804 looking on, they fell to 28-17 at Lewis and Clark Park.
By contrast they are 37-7 away from home, needing two wins in six remaining road games to break their league-record 38-12 ledger from 2015.
Matt Garrett and Jordan Smith sandwiched doubles around a Patrick Fiala single to give the guests a 2-0 lead in the second inning. Then, in the third, four Sioux Falls hits might have yielded just one run if not for third baseman Jose Sermo’s muffed two-out ground ball that led the Canaries score twice more.
Jay Baum and Blake Schmit led off the home half of the fifth with base hits and the Explorers finally got on the board with Daniel Jackson’s sacrifice fly.
Fiala got that run back for Sioux Falls, rapping his third RBI single of the night in the top of the seventh.
The hosts’ comeback bid got serious when Jackson drove in three more runs on a bases-loaded double in the bottom of the seventh. Trailing 6-4 with runners at second and third and nobody out, they couldn’t do more as Michael Lang struck out, Nate Samson flew out to shallow right field and Jackson was gunned down at the plate for an inning-ending double play.
In the eighth, Dean Green reached on a one-out error, Baum walked and Schmit rapped a run-scoring single to make it a one-run game. With two runners aboard and only one out, another rally was snuffed out when reliever Kyle Schepel struck out Dexture McCall and Jackson.
Yet another chance at a tying run came when Luis Durango led off Sioux City’s ninth inning with a walk. However, when Dylan Kelly followed with a base hit to the gap in right-center, the X’s rolled the dice and lost once again as Durango attempted to score all the way from first and was thrown out at home.
Schepel added two more strikeouts to finish off his 12th save of the season.
“Our magic numbers are one and three,’’ said Montgomery, referring to what remains in order to clinch a playoff berth and then the South Division title. “It’s going to stay that way until we either take care of business or what-not.’’