Saturday Loss, Sunday Cancellation Assure Losing 2021 Season for Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats

Dominant Clarinda puts pedal to metal in eighth, turns tie into 14-6 rout of 16-21 Fish

As reported to C-T

CLARINDA, Iowa — Although the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats objected repeatedly, the Clarinda A’s – as they did in their historic, season-long demolition of their MINK League competition in 2021 – served as judge, jury and executioner Saturday night to close out the league’s regular season in customary style with a 14-6 triumph.

The Mudcats scored the game’s first run in the second inning, tied it 2-2 with a tally in the fifth, and then used a 3-runs seventh and an eighth-inning marker to offset Clarinda’s 4-runs sixth and have the contest even at 6-6 going to the bottom of the eighth.

At that point, the A’s overruled Chillicothe’s objections and decided the case in their own favor by executing an 8-runs eighth, brushing aside the Mudcats’ ill-fated attempt to avoid being swept by the rampaging North Division champion Iowa club in their seven meetings this summer.

Although eight games were due to be played against divisional foes, the other Fish-A’s contest officially was canceled Sunday morning when, with both teams reportedly already reluctant to stage the meaningless meeting, overnight rain in Chillicothe provided legitimate reason for not playing.

The combination of weekend action (two Clarinda wins in which it put up 14 runs each time) and climatic intervention left the MINK League’s most-senior member, which raced through league action like a pandemic with a beyond-astounding final league record of 32-4 and an overall record of 36-5.

It also made mathematically-certain that Chillicothe’s Mudcats, who did not have a losing season during the first 16 years of their existence, will have their second one in the past three (there was no 2020 season, due to the real COVID-19 pandemic).

The Mudcats head into the league’s 3-tiered postseason, where a maximum of four wins would be available to them as the North’s third-place team, with a 16-21 overall ledger. Their 15-21 MINK mark is the third sub-.500 league record the Fish have posted in the past four years after being below the break-even mark twice in their first 15 seasons.

Additionally, the 2021 Mudcats, guided by first-year head coach Tyler Hudlow, would need to advance to the best-of-3 league-championship and win at least once in it to avoid posting the fewest victories in a season in organization history. The previous low was 19 in 2018.

A part of the reason for that low wins total is the lesser number of games this year’s squad has played. If they fall in their playoffs opener at St. Joseph Monday evening – their 38th game, this year’s Chillicothe team will match the 2004 club for the fewest contests played in a season.

Also, a victory over the host Mustangs Monday is mandatory for the Fish to avoid posting the poorest record (by winning rate) in team history. A loss would mean a .421 success rate this season, .001 lower than the previous low in 2018.

Presumably to take the ball as starting pitcher for the Mudcats to try to prevent that will be lefthander Scott Duensing, given the commuting Kansas City-area resident’s presumed non-availability for the potential Tuesday return trip to Clarinda. Duensing owns a win over the Ponies and his loss came against the A’s.

Saturday’s game, which proved to be the regular-season finale, featured the Mudcats continually flitting around Clarinda’s countenance until the A’s finally tired of swiping at them with a hand and wielded the flyswatter.

Ironically, the only “normal” pitcher Chillicothe used tied the game with a 2-outs single in the top of the eighth inning, only to set himself up to be the losing hurler.

With usual center fielder Braedyn Brewer avoiding damage in the first A’s half-inning, the visiting Fish took a 1-0 lead in the second.

Blake Falor, returning after an absence of a few games caused by being hit by a pitch near his elbow, dunked a single into left field with one out. After Jaxon Hotta was hit by a pitch, Tanner Sears ripped a single down the left-field line to plate Falor from second.

The lead was swapped in the third when Clarinda No. 9 hitter Isaiah Marquez, a tormentor of Chillicothe hurlers most of the season, pounded a 1-out, 1-on Brewer offering over the left-field fence at Eberly Field.

After a scoreless fourth – with outfielder/first baseman Josh Swinehart spinning the inning for Chillicothe, a 1-out walk and Brewer’s bunt single transformed into a run when the third baseman gunned his late throw well wide of the first baseman and down the right-field line with its ample foul territory. Payton Allen scored without a play to tie it 2-2 and Brewer cruised on around to third as the go-ahead run.

Despite the next two Mudcats batters – Swinehart and Greyson Barrett – standing third and first, respectively, in the league in runs batted in with 75 between them, Brewer never budged from third. A tap to the third baseman and fly ball to right ended the inning.

Catcher/first baseman Sears, who started the game in the outfield for the first time and later shifted to third and first after throwing, then took a turn on the hill.

He notched a scoreless fifth, but sputtered in the sixth.

With one down, two singles and a walk loaded the bases for lefty-swinging Jeff Clarke, a mostly-pull hitter. With the Chillicothe defense not recognizing the batter’s demonstrated tendencies of the first six meetings, Clarke bounced a single through the hole on the right side, easily scoring two and ending Sears’ stint on the hill.

Tagging in was another position player, infielder Zack Cox, who’d picked up a win with a scoreless pitching debut a few nights before.

Inheriting two baserunners, both scored as a sacrifice fly, a walk, and a throwing error made it a 6-2 Clarinda lead after six innings.

Having nicked A’s lefty reliever Alex Walton for the tying run in the fourth, the Mudcats went back at him with two outs and a man at first in the sixth.

Brewer’s bad-hop single past the shortstop sent erstwhile pitcher Mitch Alba, who played the entire game in the outfield and acquitted himself decently, to third. Swinehart then launched a drive over the left fielder’s head for a double, plating Alba, who had walked to open the inning, and sending Brewer to third.

That provided another 2-outs run-producing opportunity for Barrett, who began the game three shy of the 18-years-old team record for runs batted in with 42.

He seized this chance against new pitcher Ryan Wentz, pulling a hit down the right-field line to drive in two and make it a 1-run game, 6-5.

At that point, Hudlow inserted a “true” pitcher, righty Cole Mammenga, who quickly rewarded the call with a 2-strikeouts, 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh.

Facing a fourth Clarinda pitcher, the Mudcats fashioned an oddly-sourced tying rally.

With one out, Alba delivered a single, raising his batting average as a oft-used late-season hitter to a respectable .222.

After a walk to Sears pushed Alba to second, a strikeout was followed by what should have been the third out on a ball hit by Brewer, but an error extended the inning and left the bases full for the No. 3 spot in the batting order Swinehart has almost exclusively occupied all season.

Except this time.

In order to keep Sears in the lineup as the pending third hitter in the eighth as Mammenga came on in the bottom of the seventh, Hudlow had moved Cox back to third and Sears across the diamond to first, removing the team’s most-consistently successful and productive hitter throughout the season from his spot and slotting the new pitcher there. The move came even though the No. 3 spot was guaranteed to come around at least in the ninth inning, if not before.

As fate would have it, Swinehart’s would-be bases-full at-bat became Mammenga, who had made three plate appearances in the oddball second game of the previous Monday’s doubleheader against Joplin and struck out each time.

So, naturally, the University of Minneapolis-Morris athlete this time not only made contact, but sent a ball up the middle and into center field, scoring Alba with the tying run. Because the outfield, realizing who was batting, had pulled well in, the speed-challenged Sears was stopped at third base, especially considering Barrett would be the next batter.

With the perfect opportunity to both snap the tie and potentially surpass original Mudcat Travis Dunlap’s 2003 record of 45 RBI with a hit or something more, Chillicothe’s single-season and career home runs leader (10 each) lifted a fly ball to right which, while it had decent distance, fell short of the fence and landed in the glove of Marquez, stranding three Fish.

Still, the game now was tied with the Mudcats have erased a 4-runs deficit against the seemingly-indomitable Iowa squad. Perhaps the unlikely happenings foretold an unlikely event – a first Mudcats win over the A’s in 2021.

Uhhh, no.

Having just tied the game with his hit, taking Sears off the hook for the loss, Mammenga followed his flawless seventh-inning work by allowing hits to each of the first three Clarinda batters in the eighth. Pinch-hitter Ryan David’s double to deep left snapped the tie, after which a bunt single and a walk filled the bases with no outs.

Somewhat surprisingly, but – given the course of events in the game and throughout most of the final week of the Mudcats’ regular season – not really, Mammenga was lifted at that point, not in favor of another true pitcher in an effort to keep the game within a couple of runs in hopes of a ninth-inning Chillicothe comeback, but to bring in infielder Zack Stewart.

The evening before in Chillicothe against the A’s, Stewart had requested and received the opportunity to play at each of the nine fielding positions, his travels around the diamond repeatedly shifting teammates into unfamiliar spots in what eventually settled out as a 14-3, 7-innings loss in which Stewart made his pitching debut as a Mudcat by getting the last out of the seventh on a comebacker on a 3-0 pitch.

Brought to the hill for a second-straight game, this time in a 1-run game, his luck wasn’t as good, even though he did again retire the first batter he faced.

Following that popup, probable league player of the year Travis Welker slashed a RBI single to make it 8-6. Trevor Andrews sent a fly ball to center that was caught as another run scored following the catch.

If, against the odds, Stewart, with a base (third) open, could prevent Clarinda’s cleanup batter from doing damage – either by retiring him or perhaps pitching around him to get to the A’s’ solid, but still less-threatening No. 5 hitter, the 3-runs Clarinda lead might still be surmountable.

Instead, the odds won out.

On the second pitch Stewart sent to him, righthanded-hitting Taylan Mullins-Ohm, winner of the MINK League’s Home Run Derby at its All-Star Game July 8, displayed his power, dispatching the delivery high and far over the left-field fence for a lead-doubling 3-runs blast.

There’d be no last-gasp comeback to salvage one Chillicothe win from the A’s.

Not only that, but, when the home run was followed by a single, an error, and David’s second double of the inning, the Iowa team had scored eight times in the eight and had a chance, with as little as one swing of the bat, to claim the game on the 10-runs-lead rule when it had been tied at mid-inning.

Chillicothe avoided that ignominy, at least, when third sacker Cox threw out the next batter, who previously had been two for three.

The potentially-pulsating ninth now reduced to effectively inconsequential, Chillicothe quickly went three up, three down and piled aboard its bus for the 3-hours ride back to prepare for Monday’s trip to St. Joseph.

Statistically, after having a 9-7 advantage in hits through 7-1/2 innings, the Mudcats were out-hit 14-9 with the hosts ripping five extra-base blows to the Fish’s one.

Topping the A’s at bat was high-impact, last-inning entry David, who went two for two with two doubles, three runs driven in, and a run scored. Mullins-Ohm matched that RBI total with one swing of the bat while going two for four plus a walk, and Welker kept his league-high batting average above .430 with a 2-for-5 days.

Ever-efficient Clarinda, consistently moving runners around the bases and getting them in, as usual, left only six runners on base, while the Mudcats stranded nine.

Despite allowing the tying run in the top of the eighth, fourth A’s hurler Blake Ignaciak ended up with credit for the win. After using his bat to save Sears from the loss, Mammenga, who had started and won the first game of the Mudcats’ doubleheader only two nights earlier with a difficult 4-innings outing, dropped to a 1-2 record.

For the visitors Saturday, Barrett’s two runs batted in to leave him one behind Dunlap’s season standard shared the limelight with Alba’s 1-for-3, 1-walk, 2-runs-scored performance and Mammenga’s game-tying single in his lone at-bat.

Of the six “pitchers” used, Swinehart and Cox managed to escape without runs charged to them, Swinehart in one frame and Cox in two-thirds of an inning.