SIOUX CITY | It was clutch hitting at its finest.
Sam Judah cleared the bases with a three-run double with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning while leading the Sioux City Explorers to a 5-3 American Association victory over the Central Division-leading Wichita Wingnuts on Sunday night in front of 1,303 fans at Lewis and Clark Park.
“I had been struggling in the series, but I knew it was a big moment,” said Judah, a .274 hitter with 14 RBI for the Explorers.
“I was sitting on a slider and I got it to stay in. Thank the Lord it stayed fair. You just gotta stay positive. This game is tough. My hitting will turn around eventually.”
Manager Stan Cliburn’s 16-20 Explorers came from behind to beat Wichita for the second straight night and salvaged a split in the key four-game series. Winning pitcher Jimmer Kennedy (3-0) threw two innings of hitless relief and Chris Bodishbaugh picked up his eighth save of the season for a club that now trails the Central leaders by 6-1/2 games.
Sioux City was errorless in the four games and have now played 19 games without a miscue.
“The biggest thing I’m proud of against that team over there is our defense and our pitching,” Cliburn said. “It was a great series and all four games could have gone either way. We beat probably one of the best Independent League hitting clubs I’ve seen in a long, long time.
“That’s a tribute to our pitchers and how they attack the zone. (Explorers pitching coach) Ty Marotz has done a great job with them in the meetings. It’s a team effort, it’s not just one person.”
Losing pitcher Chris Smith (2-3) was cruising, going into the eighth inning with just 86 pitches and a 3-2 lead. The former major leaguer, who had a combined 50 relief appearances for the Boston Red Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers from 2008-10, retired the first two Explorers he faced in the eighth before issuing consecutive walks to Luke Murton and Peter Barrows.
Catcher Cole Armstrong, who homered to give Wichita a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning, dropped a slider on a strikeout pitch to Yusuke Inoguchi. The 32-year-old Smith barehanded it, but Inoguchi beat the throw to first baseman C.J. Ziegler to load the bases.
The rest is history. Judah, the No. 7 batter in Cliburn’s order, smacked his sixth double of the season that hit the chalk down the right field line and Sioux City, which tied the game 1-all when Alberto Espinosa scored on Eliezer Mesa’s two-out single in the third inning, took the lead for keeps.
“(Judah) is a guy we counted on,” Cliburn said. “We traded Palmer Karr down to Laredo because we wanted to give this young man more playing time. That’s what we did. We’re just waiting for him to contribute. He has been a little frustrated, but he’s been working hard in his extra hitting, so today paid off for him.”
“First of all, this team is full of great athletes, great baseball players, everyone here can hit,” Judah said. “This team fights like no other team I have ever known. Last night, we came from behind and won. Tonight, we came from behind and won. Our pitching staff has been great this whole series and our hitters did a great job fighting back.”
“Juggling the lineup like I have the last couple of nights, it’s put the guys in position to where they can succeed,” Cliburn said. “Inoguchi for one, Judah the other. Mesa has been big for us at the leadoff spot.”
The Explorers are idle today. Jason Jarvis (4-3, 3.33 ERA) will get the pitching start on Tuesday as Sioux City will host the Winnipeg Goldeyes in the opening game of a three-game series.
Article courtesy of Jerry Giese of the Sioux City Journal