Pair of Errors Cost Chillicothe Mudcats Win in 12th Wednesday
After breaking 3-3 tie in top of inning, Fish fumble game at Sedalia away, 7-6
SEDALIA — While the results – once quite pleasing – have turned decidedly mixed, there is no disputing the 2021 Chillicothe Mudcats baseball team is routinely keeping any attending fans who want to know the outcome of their games in the stands right to the very last pitch.
Wednesday night at Liberty Park Stadium in Sedalia, for a sixth time in the Mudcats’ past seven games, the result either was determined or could have been on the contest’s last pitch. Sadly, for the Fish, for a third-consecutive outing, that last pitch’s result meant a walkoff defeat.
After ripping four hits and scoring three runs in the top of the 12th inning, snapping a 3-3 tie Payton Allen’s sacrifice fly had established for them in the seventh, the Mudcats committed two errors on routine plays – one a dropped fly ball that allowed the tying run to score, rather than end the game as a 6-4 triumph – in the bottom of the 12th and lost 7-6 when the host Bombers’ Brandon McGinnis cleanly grounded a basehit into left field to score the winning run from second base.
The tough-to-swallow setback came in the second of 5-straight MINK League road games the Mudcats (4-6, 3-6 MINK) have on their schedule this week.
After returning home fairly briefly overnight Wednesday following the thankfully comparatively-quick 12-innings contest (it was completed in 3:32) at Dey Field, the Chillicothe college-level baseball club heads 4-plus hours south to Joplin Thursday morning for back-to-back clashes with the Outlaws that evening and Friday and then, after a second night’s stay at Joplin, visit Nevada, 50 miles to the north, Saturday on their way back home to host St. Joseph Sunday at 5:05 p.m.
Wednesday’s walkoff win for Sedalia, in a sense, balanced the scales for the Mudcats’ 10-9 come-from-behind, walkoff victory over the Bombers at Trenton exactly a week earlier. There was a key difference, however: The Fish earned their win with a multiple key hits in the eighth and ninth innings, including tying and winning solo home runs in the bottom of the ninth; Sedalia, while it did have a couple of hits, essentially was handed its triumph by Chillicothe mistakes.
Following six sterling, highly-efficient innings of shutout relief pitching by Koby Linder (Green Castle, Mo./North Central Missouri College), the Mudcats, who had led 2-0 after the first two batters of the game when Josh Swinehart followed Payton Allen’s leadoff walk with a long home run over the friendly left-field fence, finally regained in the top of the 12th the upper hand starting pitcher Scott Duensing had relinquished in the fifth inning.
After Sedalia’s fourth hurler of the game, Connor Wolf, had fanned two of the three Chillicothe batters in the 11th and the one he didn’t was cut down trying to steal after a walk, Mudcats third baseman Zack Cox stroked a leadoff single to the opposite field to greet Wolf in his second inning of work.
A third strikeout followed, but Max Huntley, who had stayed in the game at second base after whiffing as a pinch-hitter for Petey Taylor in the 10th, found the gap in left-center field with a line drive. When Zack Stewart, pinch-running for Cox, beat the relay to home plate, the Mudcats had a 4-3 lead and a chance for more.
They cashed in that chance when Allen singled to left-center to plate Huntley and Swinehart singled to left to score Allen, who’d continued on to second base on the throw home trying to cut down Huntley. Swinehart also easily took second as the Bombers tried in vain to stop Allen from scoring, but, after Wolf was replaced by lefthander Bennett Brownfield, was stranded.
At the time, that seemed likely to be insignificant – and it should have been, but, in the end, it was not.
With righthander Linder having thrown about 60 pitches in one of the finer relief stints in team history – particularly at the Liberty Stadium bandbox, Chillicothe first-year head coach Tyler Hudlow handed the ball to Tanner Sears, primarily one of the club’s catchers and its designated hitter the first 11-1/2 innings of this game, to try to close it out.
For Sears, it was his second mound appearance with a multi-runs lead to protect. It turned into a second time what deserved to be a scoreless 1-inning outing was sabotaged by the team’s defense, which largely has played solidly, but cracked at crucial times.
In Sears’ first relief outing, with a 5-runs lead to protect, a 2-outs, bases-loaded error by an infielder extended host Nevada’s ninth inning. However, after a third run scored on a third run, Sears – with the batter representing the winning run at a stadium where three home runs already had been hit that night – got the final out to preserve a 12-10 Chillicothe win.
At Sedalia, instead of it being only a close call, defensive deficiencies made it a close loss.
Sears (0-1) struck out the first batter and got the second to ground the ball toward third baseman Stewart, newly into the game defensively after running for Cox. With more than enough time to throw for the out, the Mudcat’s on-the-run throw was in the dirt before it reached the first baseman, who couldn’t dig it out cleanly.
The throwing error was followed by a run-scoring double to right-center field, bringing the potential tying run to bat in the person of Brett Mooney. Hitless in five prior at-bats with four strikeouts and a fouled popout on a sacrifice bunt attempt, Mooney loomed as the perfect foe for Chillicothe to have up, hoping to slow the momentum and get a second out.
Instead, Sears missed the strike zone with his first three deliveries and, after a called strike, put Mooney aboard with a walk, allowing the possible winning run to get to the plate.
On the first pitch to the next man, Sears induced a pop fly to shallow right field, but, with the outfielders playing deeper than normal because of the situation, the ball threatened to fall safely. However, Huntley raced back from his position at second base and made the tough running catch, keeping the tying run at first and moving the Mudcats to within an out of a second victory over Sedalia in as many 2021 tries.
On the very first delivery to left-handed-hitting Duffin Makings, righty Sears got a welcome sight – a fly ball, not particularly well-hit, sailing high toward the outfield where one of the team’s flyhawks figured to have plenty of time to catch it. That outfielder turned out to be center fielder Swinehart, who hurried to his right into left-center field and, in plenty of time, settled under the descending sphere.
Then, with his teammates set to celebrate, the ball somehow went in and out of his glove and bounced a short distance away. Since there were two outs, both baserunners were off with the crack of the bat with Mooney – carrying the tying run – about two-thirds of the way to third base when the drop occurred. That allowed him to score ahead of Chillicothe’s desperate, unanticipated relay attempt, and let Makings settle in at second base with the potential winning run.
That put right-handed-hitting Brandon McGinnis at the dish. One for four on the night, just as he had been in the previous Wednesday’s game at Trenton, he watched three pitches miss the strike zone before Sears got a called strike one. McGinnis then pulled the next delivery on the ground and into left field where the Fish not could not even muster a throw to try to catch Makings at home plate. A long, but ready to be sweet, evening for the Mudcats had shockingly gone sour.
For the visitors, it was a second-straight final at-bat loss. On Monday at Jefferson City, they’d had a 9-runs lead in the fifth inning vaporize and, finally, in the bottom of the ninth, lost on a walk, a wild pitch, and a game-winning hit to right.
Statistically at Sedalia, Linder’s sensational long-relief outing behind starter Scott Duensing sadly was wasted. He allowed only three hits, walking one, and hitting one while fanning four over his six innings and was poised to gain his third victory in relief in the season’s first two weeks before the last half-inning catastrophe.
McGinnis’ winner gave the Bombers a 11-10 edge in hits. They also made only one error – which was immediately nullified by a double play, while Chillicothe’s pair in the 12th gave it three.
Continuing recent improvement, Mudcats pitchers walked only three men (and hit only one) in 12 innings, while Sedalia handed out five free passes.
Swinehart, who’d been poised to be one of the Chillicothe heroes, had three runs batted in with his two hits. The home run was his third, tying MINK League “player of the week” Greyson Barrett for the team lead.
Allen had two hits, two RBI, and two runs scored plus a pair of walks, while the offensively-struggling Cox came to life with two hits in his last three at-bats, including starting what looked sure to be the winning rally.
The Mudcats’ loss, coupled with the Des Moines (Iowa) Peak Prospects’ win over MINK North Division leader Clarinda, kept the Fish 3-1/2 games behind the A’s, but let Des Moines pull even with them for third place in the 4-teams division. Second-place St. Joseph also lost Wednesday.