Strapped for Bodies, Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats Collapse Late in Loss to Leader

Ahead 3-0 after an inning and down only 5-4 after seven, Fish fall 13-4 July 13

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Jaxon Hotta, 2021 Chillicothe (Mo.)  baseball Mudcats catcher, hits a first-inning ground ball to shortstop which went as a run-scoring infield hit during the team's Tuesday (July 13) MINK League home game against the Clarinda (Iowa) A's. Although Hotta's hit and RBI gave the Mudcats a 3-0 lead, Clarinda rallied to win for the 22nd time in its last 23 games, 13-4.

By PAUL STURM, C-T/LCL Sports Editor

Facing the MINK League North Division-leading Clarinda (Iowa) A’s juggernaut at home Tuesday evening (July 13), the personnel-strapped Chillicothe Mudcats burst quickly from the starting gate and were right with the presumptive division champs into the late innings, trailing 5-4 going to the eighth after seizing a 3-0 lead in the first and still being in front by that score through three frames.

There, the game went way off the statistical rails with calm, confident Clarinda the massive beneficiary.

On the heels of a sturdy 6-1/3-innings start by Mudcats righthander Jake Young (2-2), the home team technically received 2-2/3 innings of 1-hit relief pitching. Sounds promising for facilitating a late comeback victory, right?

Well, yes and NO!

While factually accurate, that stat became remarkably irrelevant when, after initial reliever Joe Shapiro was removed after two-thirds of an inning with no runs allowed, five subsequent Mudcats mound occupants – the last four normally position players – combined to walk seven batters and hit four more in the last two innings, gift-wrapping a 13-4 triumph to the division leader.

Chillicothe’s third-consecutive defeat left it 11-14 overall and 10-14 in league play. The A’s continued to soar in the stratosphere, winning for a beyond-belief 22nd time in their last 23 games, They raised their league mark to 23-3 and overall record to 28-4.

As a consequence of the result, Clarinda cut to four its “magic number” for mathematically eliminating the Mudcats from the division-title race, although, as a practical matter, the Fish have not been in it since about the third week of the season.

Against the odds, their odds of qualifying for the league playoffs in a couple of weeks actually improved, despite the loss. At St. Joseph, the Mustangs paddled the North cellar-dwelling Peak Prospects of Des Moines twice, allowing Chillicothe to pick up a half-game in the standings on the Prospects. The Mudcats are three games ahead of the Des Moines team.

Chillicothe will try to halt its 3-games losing streak tonight (Wednesday, July 14) when it makes up a June home rainout against the Sedalia Bombers (14-15, 14-15 MINK), current co-leaders (with Nevada) of the MINK’s South Division, at 7:05 p.m. at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium.

Before the Mudcats’ current shortage of pitchers distorted Tuesday’s final two innings, the hosts were right in the thick of things, even after their recent difficulty in coming up with clutch hits in run-scoring situations in an up-for-grabs game again surfaced repeatedly.

At game’s beginning, Young faced the minimum nine batters through the first three innings, aided by a first-inning baserunning gaffe by Clarinda which resulted in a double play on a line drive caught in left field.

Meanwhile, following the inning-ending twin-killing in the top half, Chillicothe jumped Clarinda right-handed starting pitcher Chris Paruleski from the get-go.

The lineup, re-fashioned a bit by head coach Tyler Hudlow as he dealt again with having only 10 non-pitchers available, had immediate prosperity.

Zack Stewart accepted a leadoff walk and Payton Allen followed with a hard ground ball between the third baseman and the bag for a double. A solid single to left by Josh Swinehart drove both teammates in for a 2-0 lead after three batters.

As the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats' third batter of Tuesday's (July 13) home game against the Clarinda (Iowa) A's, outfielder Josh Swinehart swats a 2-runs single into left field. He later added another run-scoring single, driving in his 23rd run of the season, but it was far from enough as the A's, runaway leaders of the MINK League's North Division, broke the game open late and won, 13-4.

Even with Swinehart getting picked off – a play which presumably cost the team at least one run and maybe more, the Mudcats weren’t finished punishing Paruleski.

Tanner Sears bounced a hit through the hole on the left side and, following a forceout at second for the second out, Greyson Barrett pulled a hit into right-center field to advance the runner from first to third.

Catcher Jaxon Hotta, with only two prior hits in a limited 23 official at-bats on the year entering the action, pulled a medium-speed ground ball toward the hole at shortstop. Although the A’s fielder got in front of the ball, he didn’t glove it cleanly and could make no throw anywhere, Given that, with Barrett nearing second base already when the ball was fumbled, the shortstop was facing the necessity of making the long, across-the-diamond throw to try to retire the batter, Hotta was officially credited with an infield hit and, with Lucas Loos scoring from third, his first run batted in of the season.

After protecting that 3-0 margin through the second and third innings, Young had it vanish in the span of four batters in the top of the fourth.

A 1-out single to right field – Clarinda’s first hit of the contest – and a booming double over the head of the center fielder were converted to runs when A’s cleanup hitter Taylan Mullins-Ohm ripped a shot between third baseman Loos and the base. Not only did it go for a double, but a too-high throw toward second sailed toward the right-field line, allowing the batter-runner to move on to third base with one out. A two-strikes single to left-center then squared things again at 3-3.

Another Chillicothe error put it behind in the fifth.

With two outs and none on, two singles – the second one on the infield – were followed by a line drive carrying down the left-field line, about 20 feet on the fair side of the chalk. Left fielder Barrett, generally more used to playing first base, got to it in time to catch it, but his backhanded stab on the run saw the ball drop out of his leather as the go-ahead run scored.

The Mudcats rapidly tied the score in the bottom of the fifth, but missed out on an excellent chance to reclaim the lead.

Stewart once more got things started, this time ripping a double between the A’s left fielder and the line. Allen stroked a hard single to center for his second hit with Stewart pulling up at third with none out.

Swinehart drove in his third run of the game and 23rd of the summer with a sharp single to center, knotting the score at 4-4 and having two runners aboard for the Nos. 4-6 men in the lineup.

While he was retired on a good play, Sears’ tap up the third-base line advanced both runners, meaning even a fly ball of good depth or a groundout to any fielder other than the third baseman or pitcher probably would drive in the go-ahead run from third. A simple single could mean a pair of runs and 6-4 lead.

Instead, Paruleski bore down to strike out the next two Mudcats, keeping the game deadlocked.

Recapturing his early form, Young – not yet to 65 pitches thrown after five frames – worked a 1-2-3 sixth, after which a hit batsman and Blake Falor single put the first two Fish aboard at first and third in the bottom half.

A comebacker to the pitcher left the batter retired, but let Falor join Hotta in scoring position with one out, again creating a chance for a well-placed hit to plate two runs. Once more, it didn’t come.

Stewart joined the runners on base when he was hit by a pitch, but a tailor-made ground ball to the left of the A’s third baseman turned into an inning-ending, around-the-horn double play which put a zero on the scoreboard for the home team in the inning. The Mudcats would not get another legitimate chance to score.

After Young struck out the first batter in the Clarinda seventh, a single to center prompted the Chillicothe starter’s removal, even though his pitch count was only about at 80.

The relief choice was one of the Mudcats’ best, however – lefty Joe Shapiro, who had not thrown in a game in six days and entered with a team-best 0.66 earned-run average. He had not allowed a deserved tally in his past 13-1/3 innings and six appearances, holding foes to seven hits and four walks while striking out nine in that span.

He struck out the lefthanded-swinging first batter he faced, although, in an ominous foreshadowing, the swing and miss on strike three came on a pitch in the dirt which permitted the runner at first to move up to second.

A clean single to left field by outstanding A’s infielder Travis Welker, whose 3-for-4 night would lift his batting average to .381, was too sharp for the runner to score from second, but brought another righthanded-hitter, Andrews, up to face the southpaw.

Shapiro quickly jumped ahead on the count with two called strikes before, with Welker taking off for second on the third pitch, firing a sharp, low breaking ball Andrews swung over for strike three. However, the pitch hit the dirt before reaching the catcher and caromed either off his mitt or left shin guard high into the air behind him.

By the time the receiver located the ball in foul territory to his right, Andrews was well on his way to reaching first base without a throw, while Welker was speeding to third and lead runner Isaac Lopez was loping across the dish with the tiebreaking run.

Like a yank on a loose thread, that would-be inning-ending out prompted an unraveling by the home team, even though Shapiro retired the very tough Mullins-Ohm on a pop fly to strand A’s at the corners and keep it a 5-4 score.

After Clarinda relief pitcher Ryan Wentz rapidly retired the Fish in order in the home seventh, striking out two, rather than Shapiro – who had thrown at least two innings in each of his four most-recent appearances – staying in what clearly still was anybody’s game, the decision was made to insert newly-arrived righthander Dustin Gipson.

A resident of Hudlow’s hometown of Harrisburg, Mo., and a member of the North Central Missouri College diamond program for which the Mudcats’ head coach is an assistant during the school year, Gipson’s addition to the team roster had been disclosed by team officials more than two weeks earlier, but Tuesday was the first night he’d actually been in uniform.

His immediate use was prompted, in no small part, by the looming heavy schedule of games the Mudcats face the rest of the regular season. After hosting Sedalia Wednesday, they go to St. Joseph Thursday, followed by a home game against the Peak Prospects Friday, a doubleheader at Des Moines Saturday, a Sunday home tilt with St. Joseph, and then another doubleheader against Joplin at home Monday, July 19.

Unfortunately for Gipson and the team, his debut was very brief and did not go well, setting a catastrophic tone, pitching-wise, for Chillicothe for the rest of the game.

The very slender (5’10”, 135 pounds) righthander went to a full count on the first man he faced, but walked him.  His next delivery nicked the A’s batter before another full-count situation produced another walk, filling the bases with no outs.

Hoping to rescue the situation, but without the resources to reasonably do so, Hudlow and pitching coach Pablo Ortiz opted to pull Gipson. His replacement, however, was one of the team’s fielders – shortstop Allen, who had thrown a total of two innings in two previous mound stints, earning a save with a scoreless inning in his most-recent.

What Gipson had begun, however, Allen and fellow position players Braedyn Brewer and Barrett compounded.

Allen worked to five batters, getting one out while walking two and hitting two, as Clarinda’s 1-run lead at inning’s start ballooned to 9-4 by the time he went back to shortstop.

Brewer, in his hill debut with the Mudcats, actually did pretty well, getting a run-scoring groundout before refilling the bases with a walk. After a wild pitch tacked on another run, a grounder which could have ended the inning was misplayed, making it 12-4, before a fly ball to left ended Brewer’s hitless 4-batters stint.

In the ninth, Barrett made his second pitching appearance and promptly beaned the first batter of the ninth with his first pitch before walking the next two. That prompted his removal in favor of infielder Falor. Like Brewer, making his first appearance in the pitching role, Falor fared well, setting down all three batters he faced, although the first delivered a scoring fly ball.

While the cave-in on the mound in the last two innings created a dispiriting conclusion to the evening, whether flawless work by Gipson and anyone else employed would have changed the outcome is debatable.

Although with the pressure off him when he went back out to pitch a second time in the eighth following his teammate’s 7-runs, 0-hits top half of the inning, Wentz nevertheless again retired the Mudcats in order in the eighth and completed three hitless innings with a ninth that saw a 2-outs walk provide the only baserunner against him.

Statistically, there were a couple of other anomalies besides Chillicothe’s deceptive composite total of one hit allowed in 2-2/3 innings by its relievers.

When the game was over with the lopsided final score, it was the defeated home team which actually had the most hits on the night. The Mudcats out-hit Clarinda 10-8. In terms of total baserunners from hits, walks, and hit batsmen, the A’s had only a 20-18 edge, certainly not reflective of the final score.

Additionally, because he entered with a lead – albeit a slim one run, by working the last three innings, righthander Wentz actually picked up a save in a game which ended with a 9-runs final spread.

Welker’s three hits, two runs driven in, and two scored paced the winners, who also received three RBI from Mullins-Ohm. Despite batting either first or second virtually all summer, Welker now is second in the league in runs batted in with 25.

The Mudcats’ Swinehart, who went two for three plus a walk and knocked in three, is fourth in the league in RBI with 23 now, one back of teammate Barrett.

Allen joined Swinehart in having a multi-hits night, going two for four.