Five of six Chillicothe runs in 6-4 victory at Jefferson City unearned, game-ending DP preserves 19th victory of 2019 season
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In nearly every instance in sports, defense cannot win a game or match on its own – football being the most-obvious exception with the defensive unit able to score in multiple manners.
Monday night’s (July 8, 2019) 6-4 Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats MINK League win at Jefferson City came about as close as any baseball game one will find of being totally decided by defense – or a failure on defense.
The Mudcats’ return to postseason action for the first time since 2011 advanced toward its now-seeming inevitability when it made some defensive plays and the host Renegades had a couple of highly-costly breakdowns in the field.
Thanks to an inning-starting fumble, the Mudcats posted four unearned runs in the top of the fourth innings at Ernest Vivion Field to convert a 1-0 lead provided by Jack Grace’s 1-out home run in the second to a 5-0 margin. Then, after Jeff City clawed back to within 5-4 after six innings, another undeserved Chillicothe tally went on the scoreboard in the top of the seventh, courtesy of a 2-outs passed ball.
That’s how the game ended, but only because the Mudcats cut down three Renegades on the basepaths while also forcing the home team to strand another 10.
Given, those events, the game ended fittingly when, with Jefferson City having the potential winning run in the batter’s box in the homer-friendly park and merely one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Chillicothe center fielder Brandon Settles not only tracked down a drive off the bat of Lincoln Orellana for the second out, but hit cutoff man Hunter Johnson with his immediate throw, allowing Johnson to fire the ball to second baseman Marcus Gonzalez at that bag to double up 2018 Mudcat Gaven Strobel and sew up the visitors’ victory.
That Chillicothe (19-10, 17-9 MINK) claimed the contest not only wasn’t a surprise, but also might have ranked as expected, considering their performance history in this 2019 turnaround season.
One summer after the Mudcats experienced the first-ever losing season (19-26) in the organization’s history (which dates to the 2002 season), they’ve already equaled that wins total in only 29 outings, largely due to an exceptional and astounding 13-4 record (12-4 in league) in “away” games. Monday’s was their sixth triumph in a row away from “Chuck” Haney Field in Chillicothe’s “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium and the eighth in their last nine road contests.
Considering that remarkable statistic, it might be bad news that, starting Tuesday (July 9), their next nine games technically will be “home” games. The silver lining of that schedule is that Wednesday night’s (July 10) game against Nevada won’t be played on Haney Field, but rather will be the Mudcats’ annual game at Trenton’s Burleigh Grimes Field. Going into this stretch of home games, which concludes their regular-season home schedule, the Fish own only a 6-6 mark in Shaffer Park.
In Tuesday’s first of 3-straight contests against Nevada, Chillicothe head coach Caleb Bounds likely will send big (6’4”, 220 pounds) righthander Cristhian Cardona (1-1) to the hill as starting pitcher.
Before arriving in town, Nevada’s Griffons – in last place in the league’s South Division – did the Fish a favor Monday.
At home, they walked off with a 7-6, 11-innings victory over the North’s Clarinda (Iowa) A’s. Combined with the Chillicothe conquest in the state’s capital city, that lowered the Mudcats’ “magic number” for clinching one of the three berths in the league’s upcoming North Division playoffs to merely three. Any number of Chillicothe triumphs and/or A’s defeats in the last two weeks of the season will mean postseason play for the Mudcats for the first time in eight years.
Bolstered by its win and Jefferson City’s and Joplin’s losses Monday, Nevada will come to north Missouri hungry and anxious for victories. While in last place in the South, it will begin the 3-games series with the Mudcats only a game behind third-place Jeff City and 1-1/2 back of the second-place Outlaws of Joplin.
Monday’s Mudcats victory pivoted on their exploitation of that inning-opening Jefferson City error in the fourth.
With Grace’s first-pitch, team-leading fourth circuit clout having staked them to a slender lead in the second, Chet Merritt got on to begin the fourth when the third baseman misplayed a ball he hit there. After he was bunted to second by Cole Ficken, Grace, whose three home runs prior to Monday all had come in the same game against Ozark June 15, ripped a double off losing pitcher Tyler Robbins to make it 2-0.
After a groundout that, except for the error, would have been the inning’s third out, Settles singled Grace home from second and took second himself on the throw to the plate. A walk to Tate Wargo put two on for Marcus Gonzalez, who delivered his own double that sent both runners scampering across the plate for a 5-0 Chillicothe lead.
Jefferson City (14-14, 10-14 MINK) tagged Mudcats starting and winning pitcher Scott Duensing (2-0) for four hits and two runs in its half of the fourth. After the lefthander departed, having thrown 90 pitches in five innings, the Renegades used three more hits to hang another two runs on first reliever Chandler Griggs and make it a 1-run game.
Beginning the seventh, the ball was handed by Bounds to lefthander Kale Harris, who had not appeared in a game in three weeks. Despite that layoff, working less than 50 miles from his hometown of New Franklin, Harris kept the home team at bay in the seventh and eighth, surrendering only one hit and hitting one man.
After the lefty got the first out of the ninth, Strobel singled, prompting Bounds to summon his preferred closer, Jack McNellis. The righthander immediately surrendered a single – the third hit of the night for Renegades cleanup batter Paul Haupt – to let the lefthanded-swinging Orellana step in representing the winning run.
Thanks to the Mudcats’ crisp defensive execution, Orellana indeed became the game’s last batter, but for a disappointing reason for him and the home crowd.
The doubling-off of Strobel to end the game was, as previously noted, the third time a Renegade baserunner had been erased in a non-forceout situation.
Back in the very first inning, leadoff man Dede Cole touched Duensing for a single, only to get – essentially – picked off at first, although it technically goes into the statistical record as a “caught stealing,” since he tried to go to second when the Mudcats lefty threw to Merritt at first.
Then, as a 2-outs single by Thomas Reuther was scoring the Renegades’ second run of the sixth inning and narrowing the hosts’ deficit to 5-4, Cole tried to go from first to third as Settles initially threw toward home plate after coming up with the hit. As he’d also do in the game-ending sequence, Settles made his throw fundamentally correct – low enough that it could be cut off and relayed to a different destination.
That’s just what happened as Merritt spotted Cole heading for third and, grabbing Settles’ peg near the pitcher’s mound, fired it quickly to Ficken at third to get Cole. Instead of Griggs – or perhaps a replacement reliever – having to face No. 3 hitter Strobel, the Jeff City resident who led Chillicothe in runs batted in last year, with runners either at second and third or first and third in a 1-run game, the inning ended. With the Mudcats netting their fifth unearned run in the top of the seventh, Jefferson City never got to take a late-innings at-bat facing only a 1-runs deficit.
Statistically, Chillicothe prevailed despite being out-hit 13-8 and outscored 4-1 in earned runs. Grace (LaGrange, Ill.) was the only Fish with more than one hit, going two for three plus a walk with two extra-base hits, two runs scored and two driven in. Gonzalez (Tarpon City, Fla.) also drove in two runs.
McNellis’ save was his fifth of the season and third in seven games. It drew him within earshot of the Mudcats’ individual record of eight in a season, set by Blake Ring in 2003 and matched the next year by Chris Fowler (not the ESPN announcer).
This year’s team total of eight gives it a chance to approach the team record of 12 saves established in 2012. Three other Mudcats teams have posted 10 in a season.