Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats Twin-Killings Slay St. Joseph for Fifth-Straight Win Wednesday
Center fielder Brewer’s spectacular play in fourth one of four Fish double plays in 6-4 road victory
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats’ pitching has been largely-responsible for the team’s hot streak leading up to Thursday’s 1-day MINK League All-Star Game break, but when the hurlers weren’t quite up to their recent standards Wednesday, the defense rode to their rescue.
Handed a 3-0 lead in the top of the third inning and re-establishing that 3-runs cushion with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth, the Mudcats stymied the St. Joseph Mustangs with a series of four double plays – the first one a spectacular one created by center fielder Braedyn Brewer – in five innings to fuel Chillicothe’s eventual 6-4 triumph – the Mudcats’ fifth win in a row.
With the hosts threatening to again counter Chillicothe’s tallies in the fourth, as the Ponies had done in the third, Brewer dashed in to make a diving snag of a sinking line drive with no outs and runners at first and third bases. Almost instantly springing back to his feet, Brewer gunned a strike to home plate, allowing catcher Tanner Sears to apply a tag on the approaching runner from third for a stunning double play that probably rates as the Mudcats’ defensive “play of the year” to date.
Brewer’s nearly-singlehanded preservation of his team’s 3-runs lead in the home fourth was followed by a pair of ground-ball double plays in the St. Joe sixth and eighth and an inning-ending pop-fly pair in between. They permitted the Fish to defeat the Mustangs for a third time in seven nights, even though the home team out-hit them 11-8.
The outcome not only moved Chillicothe (10-11, 9-11 MINK) within a game of .500 overall, but also to within a game of second-place St. Joseph (13-12, 11-11 MINK) in the league’s North Division standings. With runaway North leader Clarinda (Iowa) routing the Peak Prospects of Des Moines Wednesday, the Mudcats moved three games up on the Prospects in the race for the division’s third and final league-playoffs berth.
Following Thursday’s scheduled All-Star Game and Home Run Derby at Jefferson City, Chillicothe is slated for Friday and Saturday home-field action at “Chuck” Haney Field in “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium. Hoping to keep the winning streak percolating, the Mudcats are due to host Jefferson City both of those evenings, although the weather forecast at mid-week was not that promising for the weekend.
Both Friday’s and Saturday’s home contests are scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m.
Sunday is to bring a trip to sizzling Clarinda before Monday and Tuesday have St. Joe and Clarinda due to visit Chillicothe for single games. It remains a possibility that the July 13 action against Clarinda’s A’s might become a doubleheader to make up a late June rainout.
While Wednesday’s Mudcats victory had its necessary and important contributions from their pitchers and hitters, it mostly belonged to the fielders, right from its earliest stages, undoubtedly leaving St. Joseph quite frustrated.
In the bottom of the first, right after catcher’s interference put the first Mustangs batter on base, Chillicothe receiver Tanner Sears erased his technical error by throwing the man out trying to steal.
Two batters later, Brewer previewed his later, greater impact by racing into the gap in left-center field to chase down an extra-base-hit bid for the third out.
After a ho-hum second, first baseman Greyson Barrett prevented the home team from eclipsing the Mudcats’ 3-runs top of the third inning by diving to his right (glove side) to spear a low line drive off the bat off lefty-swinging Ike Book. The play came with the Ponies having already scored twice and had the bases loaded before Barrett ended the inning with his clutch stab.
Following Brewer’s sensational defensive fourth, the fifth saw second baseman Petey Taylor make an outstanding play to turn a would-be ground-ball hit into the second out that limited a runner at second’s advance to be only to third base. When starting and winning pitcher Mitch Alba (1-2) got the next batter to pop up to first, the Chillicothe advantage stayed at three runs.
Then came three innings in a row which had twin-killings.
A leadoff walk in the sixth turned out to be Alba’s swan song. Lefthander Joe Shapiro, who had baffled St. Joseph for 4-plus innings to earn a win only three nights earlier, came on and quickly got a ground ball to third baseman Stewart that turned into an around-the-horn double play.
Shapiro saw a 1-out bunt go for not only a hit, but two bases, in the seventh when Stewart’s rushed, late throw got away. However, just as the baserunner was trying to steal third during the next batter’s plate appearance, the hitter swung and lifted a popup into short left field that shortstop Falor easily retreated to catch and then throw to Taylor to double off the runner.
Chillicothe closer Koby Linder, not nearly as crisp Tuesday as in most of his previous outings, nevertheless got through the eighth unscathed, thanks to sandwiching a 4-6-3 grounder between hits by the first and third men he faced.
In the ninth, after the Mudcats’ offense finally managed to eke out another insurance run for a 6-2 lead, another Mustangs leadoff single this time was followed by Sam Kissane’s second pull-side home run of the game over the wall in right.
The lead quickly cut in half with still three outs to get, Linder’s competitive juices got flowing. A strikeout and two groundouts concluded the action, earning him his third save to go with three wins on the season.
The bottom third of the Mudcats’ order set up the game’s first scoring with a big 2-outs hit turning the top of the third into a crooked-number frame.
A fielding error let Petey Taylor get aboard to open the inning. When Blake Falor waited out a walk and lefty-swinging Greyson Barrett was thumped in the back by a breaking ball from Mustangs starting southpaw Dawson Smith, the sacks were stuffed with Fish with no outs for the top of the lineup.
Zack Stewart’s fly ball to right was deep enough for Taylor to scamper home, beating the tag with a headfirst slide which left him shaken up briefly.
When the next Mudcat was retired, it looked like Chillicothe would ding Smith for only one run, but that changed with one swing of the bat by the team’s hottest run producer.
With runners at first and second and two outs, righthanded-hitting Josh Swinehart sent a drive toward right-center field. Its natural “slice” moving the ball away from the pursuing center fielder, the ball finally glanced off the diving outfielder’s glove and rolled on toward the wall. By the time it was returned to the infield, two runs had scored and Swinehart had a third triple in his last four at-bats and the visitors a 3-0 lead.
A leadoff home run by Mustangs No. 8 batsman Sam Kissane and two subsequent singles and a walk narrowed the gap to 3-2 in the bottom of the third before Barrett’s robbery of Book helped turn the game more firmly Chillicothe’s way, especially when the Mudcats matched that pair in the top of the fourth.
Tanner Sears legged out a 1-out double on a hit to right-center in the fourth and took third base on a wild pitch. After Taylor, batting somewhere other than ninth for the first time all season, drew a base on balls and stole second, a Blake Falor bouncer to shortstop scored Sears and advanced Taylor. A long-awaited blow by Barrett then restored the 3-runs lead.
Hitless in his last 28 official at-bats and one for his last 38, the left-handed swinger pounded a long drive to right-center that banged off the fence about 380 feet away for a run-scoring double that made it 5-2, Chillicothe.
The Mudcats’ double-play binge keyed an extended stretch of scoreless play which lasted from the home fourth until the ninth.
The visitors broke the spell first when Lucas Loos’ 2-outs looper plopped safely between the mound and second baseman as Stewart, who’d begun the inning with a hit to left, dashed home from third.
Statistically, in addition to out-hitting Chillicothe by three, the home club got the two home runs (each side had three extra-base hits), struck out only three times, and received four walks to the three given to the Mudcats. The Fish did receive the two hit batsmen, one of which became a run.
However, the visitors had the major advantage in DPs, made no errors while St. Joe had two, and, most importantly, scored the most runs.
Individually for the Mudcats, Stewart and Barrett each went two for three with a run scored and a run driven in. Barrett not only halted his long hitless skid with his double in the fourth, but followed that with a looping single to shallow right in the sixth.
While Swinehart had only the one hit, his triple gave him 2-RBI performances in four of his past five games and 20 runs batted in for the season.