10-9 game with Clarinda (Iowa) A's included 25 hits, 11 errors, 23 runners left on base, multiple baserunners cut down, and, finally, 2-outs, walk-off, 2-runs single off left-field wall by Chillicothe's Dom Trevino
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Nearly all – if not all – sports fans recognize and understanding the meaning of the phrase “winning ugly.”
The postseason-bound 2019 Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats didn’t just “win ugly” at home Saturday night; they might have “won ugliest.”
The salient point to remember, however, is that the operative word in such a description is not the adverb, but the verb – won.
Trying to chase down MINK League North Division leader St. Joseph and stay ahead of defending league champion Sedalia in the race for playoffs positioning, the Mudcats managed to put lipstick on the sow’s ear of a game they played against the woebegone Clarinda (Iowa) A’s, claiming a walk-off 10-9, 10-innings victory on Dom Trevino’s booming 2-outs drive over the left fielder’s head that scored teammates Brandon Settles from third base and Chet Merritt from second.
Already having rallied from an 8-6 deficit after 8-1/2 innings to push the game into extra innings, Chillicothe (23-12, 21-11) was down to its last out in the 10th with no one aboard when A’s relief pitcher Nate Bentura – his team’s right fielder the first eight innings – drifted a pitch too far inside to Mudcats’ cleanup hitter and home run threat Nolan Metcalf, catching him on the arm.
With the very swift Settles inserted to replace Metcalf on the basepaths, Merritt watched four pitches in a row also miss the strike zone, putting him on first and Settles in scoring position for Trevino. When an 0-1 pitch to him eluded the catcher, both the potential tying and winning runs were in scoring position.
After taking a second ball, Trevino – owner of only six extra-base hits in 96 previous official at-bats and not a likely candidate to “muscle up” – did just that, “burning” the Clarinda left fielder justifiably playing at only medium depth to try to cut down on the greater possibility of a ball landing in front of him or to give him a chance to throw out the potential game-ending run at the plate in the event of a basehit his way.
Instead, Trevino (Edmond, Okla.) barrelled Bentura’s offering and sent it soaring high and deep to left. The left fielder futilely turned and chased toward the wall, but the ball landed just in front of the fence or against it, meaning an easy trip home for both runners and a highly-valuable, if unlikely, victory for the Fish. Ironically – perhaps in keeping with the game’s often-dysfunctional tone – Trevino technically was denied his seventh extra-base hit by his longest blow of the summer, since official scoring rules treat his game-winning hit as only a single, since the winning run scored before he reached second base and his advance there wasn’t necessary for the deciding run to score.
By pulling another victory out of the fire, Chillicothe kept pace with St. Joseph’s stampeding Mustangs (28-9, 22-7 MINK) – winners of 6-consecutive league outings and eight of their last 10, trailing the Ponies by 2-1/2 games as the teams prepare to meet for the first of four head-to-head games in the last nine days of the season Sunday evening (July 14).
A Chillicothe triumph in that 6:05 p.m. contest on “Chuck” Haney Field in Chillicothe’s “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium would intensify the drama level of the last week-plus of the regular season; a St. Joseph win likely would necessitate the Mudcats bucking the odds and sweeping the remaining three contests just to have a chance of lassoing the Mustangs at the wire.
Chillicothe head coach Caleb Bounds plans to send lefthanded pitcher Scott Duensing (2-0, 3.46 ERA) to the hill for Sunday’s clash. The Overland Park, Kan., resident has not faced St. Joseph previously this year. It is expected the Mustangs will counter with Mack Stephenson (4-0, 1.44 ERA).
Prior to walking off winners Saturday, the Mudcats seemed to do more wrong – in nearly every facet of the game – than right almost all night. In the end, their saving grace was that the A’s – the last-place team in the MINK North – were about as flummoxed in trying to execute routine tasks.
The Mudcats were charged with five defensive errors, the A’s six, and more could have been assigned.
Between the pitching and fielding or lack thereof, both sides had opportunities to score a dozen runs or more, collectively striking 25 hits, yet they combined to nearly-evenly strand 23 combined baserunners, even though the Mudcats lost multiple runners on the bases. Mudcats pitchers twice saw their pitches lofted over the distant barriers of cavernous Haney Field, fortunately for the home team with the bases empty both times.
No single play encapsulated the proceedings more than one in the bottom half of the eighth inning.
Having trailed – not by a lot – ever since three Clarinda runs broke a 1-1 deadlock in the top of the fourth, Chillicothe came to bat in the eighth behind 7-5 and with the normally-potent top of its lineup poised to bat after designated hitter Blaine Ray, from the No. 9 spot in the order led off.
The Mudcat reached when his sharply-hit bouncer back to the pitcher glanced off reliever Spencer Davidson’s body and bounced about 15 feet away toward second base. By the time the hurler got his bearings and tried to chase it down, Ray was safely aboard with an infield hit.
Tate Wargo followed with a grounder up the middle that barely squeezed past the diving shortstop, although it’s likely the fielder would have had no play anywhere, even if he gloved it. A successful sacrifice bunt by Marcus Gonzalez brought up the league’s leading hitter, Logan Eickhoff. Owner of a 12-games hitting streak and .410 batting average at game’s start, but hitless in four at-bats through seven innings, the odds favored the Fish getting a big hit that could tie the game. However, that chance was circumvented when a Davidson delivery hit Eickhoff, loading the bases for cleanup man Nolan Metcalf.
Already three for three, including a run-scoring triple which was his league-best 20th extra-base hit of the season, Metcalf stepped in as Chillicothe’s top runs producer on the year with 27 driven in. However, not fleet afoot, he also presented the Iowa team with a possible escape hatch – a ground-ball double play which would end the inning and preserve the 2-runs lead.
It turned out the A’s got their twin-killing as a result of Metcalf’s at-bat, but without remaining in front by two runs.
In a bizarre play, the Mudcat batter sent a ground ball toward the middle of the diamond, well within the range of the A’s shortstop gliding to his left. With a clean pickup and very short slip to his second baseman at the bag, a made-to-order 6-4-3 double play beckoned.
However, the ball went off the shortstop’s leather and rolled a few feet away, preventing a play at any of the bases as Ray scored the Mudcats’ sixth run.
The play was only getting started, though, it turned out. Chillicothe’s hellbent-for-leather baserunning style which has stood them in very good stead all summer tripped them up for a second time on the night in this instance.
Aware of the Fish’s fetish for pushing the envelope on the bases, the A’s shortstop – who earlier in the night had let a slow ground ball he charged, but missed, not only get under his glove, but – as it trickled slowly toward the outfield grass without reaching it near second base – go unretrieved long enough for the speedy Gonzalez to not only reach base, but round first and zip into second safely without the ball escaping the infield dirt – quickly corralled the ball this time. Sure enough, Wargo, after moving from second to third, had turned and started toward home, hoping for another attention lapse by the Clarinda player.
Instead, however, the shortstop zipped a throw to the catcher, leaving Wargo trapped between bases. Receiver Chandler Davis, efficiently using fake throws while advancing toward the speedier Wargo, soon was close enough that his momentum let him take a couple of quick strides to overtake the Mudcat and tag him out about 30 feet from third base.
As Davis did so, he turned to check on the trailing runners and – sure enough – Eickhoff, hoping to take third if Wargo could stay in the “hotbox” for a couple of throws, was midway between second and third with fielders between him and each base. Angling toward Eickhoff briefly, Davis fired the ball to the second baseman between the runner and second base, causing the Mudcat to stop his retreat and head back toward third. Before he could accelerate enough, the Clarinda infielder – his momentum already going toward third – also overtook him and tagged him for the inning’s final out.
In one play, Clarinda had committed an error which let a key run score and Chillicothe had lost two runners on the bases to prevent it from having a batter swing with a chance to tie the game or put it ahead.
That head-scratching turn of events and Noah Menchaca’s leadoff home run in the top of the ninth – immediately restoring the visitors’ 2-runs lead figured to spell doom for Chillicothe and deliver a crippling blow to their fading division-title hopes. However, on this night, nothing was that simple.
With Benchaca switched to the mound from right field, Merritt hit a leadoff bouncer to the left of the A’s third baseman to start the bottom of the ninth. When it – unsurprisingly for this night – went off his glove for another error, the Mudcats had hope. When Trevino stroked a grounder to the shortstop and he also kicked it, the potential tying runs were on base with no outs.
Three pitches later, they were on the scoreboard and Chillicothe seemed set to close out a weird win with a ninth-inning walk-off.
On a 2-0 pitch, Jack Grace, the Mudcats’ home run leader with five, hit a ball probably better than he has all season. However, he sent it straight to deep center field where, although carrying nearly 400 feet, it stayed in the spacious stadium. Because the center fielder had no chance to get back to it for a catch, however, it served as a score-knotting 2-runs double.
With no outs and an 8-8 soore, the Mudcats efficiently bunted Grace up to third, giving them two outs to try to get him the last 90 feet to win it. It didn’t happen, though, as Bentura got a clutch strikeout and a routine fly out to right field to force a 10th inning.
Already having worked three shaky, but not too damaging, innings in relief of less-than-sharp starter Brandon Van Buren, righthander Collin Chalmers was sent back to the hill for the 10th. He deserved a fairly-easy inning, but instead was tagged with an unearned go-ahead run that threatened to make him the losing pitcher.
The first A’s batter of the 10th swung and missed at a curveball in the dirt for strike three. However, because it hit the dirt and was only blocked by catcher Metcalf, the batter was free to try to reach first. Although he had plenty of time to throw him out, Metcalf had the ball slip from his grip upon release and the throw sailed well wide of first baseman Merritt to the foul side of first. Uncaught, it rolled well beyond the base, allowing batter Daniel Powers to end up at second base.
With the game staying true to its wacky, winding course, the next batter hit a grounder which third baseman Hunter Johnson had to charge to field. Throwing a strike to first while on the run, Johnson retired the batter, but was not able to stay near third base, allowing Powers to try to advance after the throw to first.
As the Clarinda baserunner did so, shortstop Wargo properly filled in behind Johnson, rushing to cover third as Merritt attempted to fire back across the diamond. The ball, Wargo, and Powers all arrived at virtually the same instant and, in the confusion, the ball deflected away – apparently off the sliding Powers – into foul territory near the Chillicothe dugout. As Wargo and the retreating Johnson scrambled after it, Powers arose and dashed for home plate, making it without a play to once again given the Iowans the upper hand, this time at 9-8.
When, in the bottom of the 10th, Bentura quickly recorded the first two outs, it looked like Powers’ play had proved decisive, but, even though neither of the next two batters hit safely, the Mudcats never made another out and Trevino earned the hero’s wreath.
The last-second comeback made a winning pitcher out of lefthander Kale Harris (New Franklin, Mo.), an early-season pickup when fellow lefty Noah McClanahan broke his elbow in his season-opening start. Harris (1-0), a soft-throwing southpaw, had appeared in only six of the team’s first 34 games with his most-impactful outing having been in relief in a July 8 win at Jefferson City.
Entering Saturday’s action with an earned-run average just north of 8.50, Harris came on in the top of the 10th after a single followed the play on which Powers scored. The lefty, whose small hometown is only a couple of miles east of teammate Kole Ficken’s Boonville haunts, fielded a comebackerd from the first batter he faced. After intentionally walking Menchaca, Harris got a harmless fly ball to right field to strand two runners and set up Trevino’s heroics.
Highlights of the odd game’s first seven innings had included Metcalf’s three hits, including his RBI triple to right-center that tied the score at 1-1 in the first, Gonzalez’s alert, aggressive baserunning that turned the Clarinda shortstop’s fielding error into a 2-bases gaffe, Grace’s first run-scoring hit, a 2-run double up the alley in left-center by Powers in Clarinda’s 3-runs fourth, Menchaca’s 2-runs double in the fifth, and Peyton Holt’s 2-outs, solo shot over the fence in left in the top of the sixth.
Statistically in the game, in addition to numbers already cited, Clarinda’s Donovan Ditto kept repeating hits, finishing four for six, including a double and two runs scored. Menchaca ripped three hits and drove in four runs as the half of the A’s 12 hits went for extra bases.
Metcalf’s three hits and two runs batted in and Grace’s two hits and three “ribbies” shared the limelight with Trevino’s game-ending blow.