AirHogs Jump out Early, Hold on Late
GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - A tense game between two budding American Association rivals had the same feel of their playoff series in 2011, their tight series in June and perhaps will be seen again this September, as the Grand Prairie AirHogs jumped out to a four-run lead in the middle innings and held on to beat the Wichita Wingnuts 5-4 on Tuesday at QuikTrip Park.
Early on it was a pitchers' duel between Grand Prairie debutant Ramon Garcia and Wichita righty Derek Blacksher (4-2), with only one baserunner through the first two and a half innings. But Trent Lockwood and David Thomas began the third with singles, and after Yasutsugu Nishimoto bunted the runners over and Keanon Simon popped out, Blacksher threw a wild pitch on 1-2 to Bryan Frichter that just eluded the reach of catcher Taylor Freeman to open the scoring.
Garcia was excellent through his first four innings, allowing just one hit while striking out one and getting eight groundouts. But after striking out Jared McDonald to start the fifth, he gave up back-to-back singles to Blake Bergeron and Freeman. The righty was able to buckle down though, getting Zac Mitchell on a nice running catch by Lockwood in right-center before getting Mike Conroy on a called third strike with a full count.
The Wingnuts (31-12) tied the game in the sixth off Derrick Miramontes (4-1), getting an RBI single by John Rodriguez that just nicked off the glove of a diving Andres Rodriguez at first.
Grand Prairie (31-13) answered right back in the bottom half, after Blacksher fired a fastball to first too high for Bergeron with two outs and no one on trying to get Frichter. That kept the inning alive for Brian Myrow, who got the green light on a 3-0 count and just had enough on a his drive to right-center to get the ball over the wall for a two-run homer, his seventh of the season.
It was a tiring Blacksher who gave up the AirHogs' final two runs, with a two-out wall-scraping double by Lockwood in the seventh followed by the first splashdown home run of the year, as Thomas found the pool in right-center to make it 5-1.
But the Wingnuts were not going to lay down easy. Ronnie Morales relieved Miramontes after a leadoff double in the seventh and kept Wichita off the scoreboard, but Griffin Bailey could not do the same an inning later. After the righty walked Ryan Khoury and hit Sean Smith to start the inning, Rodriguez singled to load the bases, and David Peralta hit a ground-rule double to right-center to pull the Wingnuts to within two.
In came Jakob Cunningham, who was greeted by a sacrifice fly by McDonald to left, which also sent Peralta to third with one out. But Bergeron fouled out on a nice running grab by catcher Chris McMurray towards the AirHogs' dugout on the first-base line, with Cunningham and Nishimoto both retreating to cover home plate and prevent Peralta from scoring, before manager Ricky VanAsselberg summoned closer Justin Dowdy for his first four-out save attempt of the season.
The left-handed hitting Freeman was no match, striking out looking to end the top of the eighth, before Dowdy struck out Steve Carrillo and got Conroy to ground out to start the ninth. But Khoury singled to keep the game alive and Smith was hit by a pitch, bringing up the former Major Leaguer Rodriguez. Dowdy got a strike and a foul ball to jump ahead in the count, and Rodriguez managed only a weak grounder to second that Frichter converted into the final out, with Dowdy taking sole possession (for now) of the American Association save lead with 11.
Notes: The AirHogs' 14-game home winning streak is now alone as the longest in the league this season, besting Amarillo's 13-game streak...Six of the seven AirHogs hits came from Myrow, Lockwood and Thomas, with Andres Rodriguez picking up the other one...Going back to last season's playoffs, six of these teams' last eight games have been decided by one run, with the AirHogs owning a 4-2 record in those games and Wichita winning the other two non one-run contests...Bergeron and Mitchell were making their professional debuts, with Bergeron going 3-for-4...Garcia's three putouts tied an American Association record for most by a pitcher in a game.
The 2011 American Association Champion Grand Prairie AirHogs continue their four-game series against the Central Division-leading Wichita Wingnuts on Wednesday, July 4, at 6:05 p.m (PLEASE NOTE THE EARLIER START TIME). All fans are invited to stay after the game for the QuikTrip Park/Lone Star Park/City of Grand Prairie Independence Day fireworks spectacular. All games are aired live and for free on Ustream by clicking on the link on the AirHogs' home page or visiting http://www.ustream.tv/channel/airhogs-baseball with selected contests aired on Time Warner Cable's Texas Channel. For information on tickets, promotions, advertising, and other opportunities with the AirHogs, check out the Web site at www.airhogsbaseball.com, or call the QuikTrip Park office at (972) 504-9383.
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