WICHITA, KS – Jason Kempf reporting/contributing: After spending two weeks away from home, Wichita welcomed Joplin into Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on Sunday night. The game was the opener of a big two-game series between the top two teams in the American Association’s South Division. Wichita threw the first big punch, scoring five runs in the first inning, but it was the Blasters who delivered a haymaker later in the game on their way to a 12-8 win. Joplin is now two games behind Wichita for the top spot in the division standings.
The Blasters (40-31) struck in their first at bat to snatch away an early advantage. Maikol Gonzalez walked with two outs and scored on Jairo Perez’s double off of starter Tim Brown.
In the bottom of the first, Wichita (43-40) broke through to take a lead of their own. Joplin southpaw Josue Montanez walked David Espinosa to start the inning, before recording the first out via pop up. Matt Padgett bounced a ball back to the pitcher who had Espinosa caught between second and third. At the end of a short rundown, Perez, the third baseman, dropped the ball while tagging the runner to allow both men to reach safely. John Nester and T.J. Mittelstaedt followed with RBI singles to make it 2-1. Joash Brodin walked to load the bases for Brent Dean. The designated hitter grounded a ball to short that turned into an RBI fielder’s choice when Gonzalez tried to spin a double play, but threw errantly to first. The wild throw allowed another run to score and gave Wichita a 4-1 advantage. Following back-to-back walks, the bases were loaded once again for Espinosa who grounded a ball toward third. Perez fielded and then tagged Jayce Ray too late on a dive into the base which increased the margin to 5-1. Perez was ejected after arguing the call.
Joplin chipped away at the lead over the next four innings. Jesus Solorzano launched a solo home run to left field to open the third inning. Oscar Mesa walked and quickly flew around the bases on a double from Steve Tinoco. In the fifth, a walk, a fielder’s choice, and two singles loaded the bases for Joe Coyne, who had replaced Perez. He scored a run with a fielder’s choice roller for his first RBI as a professional and cut the Nuts’ lead to 5-4. Brown departed at that point, having allowed four runs on six hits.
The floodgates opened in the sixth frame. Scott Kuzminsky (2-4) walked the first batter he faced out of the bullpen and allowed a double to Omar Luna shortly after. He then walked Mitch Glasser to load the bases. With two strikes on the next hitter, a wild pitch brought home the runner from third and everyone advanced 90 feet with the game tied. Solorzano lined a sacrifice fly to center that bounced off the glove of Ray for an error. That play resulted in Alex Boshers taking over on the hill for his fellow rookie. The first two batters he faced drove in both of the runners Boshers had inherited to make it 8-5. Before the inning was completed, Carlos Ramirez doubled home a pair to give Joplin a 10-5 cushion.
Wichita put together a threat in the bottom half of the inning when Jeff Lyons (1-0) and Matt Swilley combined to walk four straight hitters and force in a run. Mittelstaedt also lifted a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 10-7.
Joplin scored two runs in a five-hit eighth inning off of Iden Nazario. Wichita managed a single run in the bottom of the ninth to narrow the gap in the final score.
Nine of 10 Joplin players who appeared in the game registered a hit and every member of the lineup either scored or drove in a run.
The final game of the series will take place on Monday night at 7:05 p.m. RHP Jason Van Skike (6-4) will square off against RHP Luis Chirinos (5-6) who tosses for Joplin.