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X's Squeeze out bizarre win on balk versus Saltdogs


SIOUX CITY | Four errors gift-wrapped five unearned runs for the Lincoln Saltdogs, but the Sioux City Explorers weren’t going to let a rough night on defense stop them.


Coming from behind three different times Monday night, the X’s opened a four-game series with a bizarre 9-8 victory at Lewis and Clark Park, scoring the winning run on an eighth-inning balk.


Trailing 3-0 and 5-2 in the early going, the Explorers grabbed a 6-5 lead when Kris Sanchez capped a four-run fifth inning with a two-run homer, his second of the young season.


Ryan Priddy, the American Association batter of the week, gave his team a little breathing room with a solo homer in the sixth, giving the 29-year-old shortstop three bombs in the first four games.


However, after a pair of miscues helped the Saltdogs recapture the lead with two unearned runs in a three-run eighth, Adrian Martinez got the hosts’ final rally started, leading off the bottom of the eighth with a bloop single down the right-field line.


One out later, rookie rightfielder Michael Lang legged out a game-tying triple with a cue ball down the left-field line.


Then, with Manager Stan Cliburn flashing a suicide squeeze sign to Michael Murphy on the third pitch to the X’s No. 9 hitter, reliever David Slovak went into his pitching motion with Lang already breaking for the plate.


Stopping momentarily and then stepping off the rubber toward an unoccupied third base, Slovak wound up throwing to his catcher for what appeared to be an out. However, since Slovak had left the rubber without delivering a pitch, the textbook balk call drew only a brief argument from Lincoln Manager Chris Miyake.


“You don’t see it very often, but once he came up with that left leg, he’s got to throw home,’’ said Cliburn. “We had the squeeze on for the first pitch and then they had a pitchout on the second one. So, we were going on the third pitch and he deceived our runner. If he’d made a pitch, we’d have tried to put the bunt down.’’


After a 1-2-3 ninth inning for Chris Bodishbaugh, the club’s new closer, the X’s improved their Central Division-leading mark to 3-1.


Lincoln, which had won the last two games of a four-game series in Wichita after dropping a pair of two-run verdicts, slipped to 2-3 despite a four-hit night for designated hitter Asif Shah, a Cincinnati native who is batting .476 after posting a .327 average in three previous seasons of independent ball.


“I’m happy with the way we’re hitting the ball,’’ said Cliburn, whose team’s 12 hits marked their third double-digit hit total in four games. “I’m disappointed with our defense, but I’m not worried about that because those guys (who made the errors) are all good defensive players who work hard on their games.


“Our infield was a little chalky tonight, too. There were some tough hops, but we’ll try to water that down a little more tonight and see if that helps.’’


X’s starter Max Whieldon, a 6-foot 10-inch rookie righthander making his professional debut, gave up eight hits in five innings and trailed 5-2 after finishing his work in the top of the fifth. However, three of the runs were unearned and Sioux City’s four-run fifth actually left Whieldon with a chance at a win, leading 6-5 before Andrew Snowdon came on to pitch the sixth.


“I was pleased with the way Max pitched,’’ said Cliburn. “He kept us in the game.’’


Lang’s bunt single to open the third helped launch the first comeback for the X’s. The former Rutgers star, who lined a long home run to right-center in Sunday’s loss at Sioux Falls, used his speed to make things happen, stealing second and taking third on an errant throw.


Then, it was leadoff man Brandon Newton, another speedster, drilling an RBI triple to left-center before trotting home to pull his team within 3-2 on Yusuke Inoguchi’s sacrifice fly.


The X’s squandered two hits in the fourth inning, but they came up with a big two-out rally after Lincoln starter Justin Edwards followed up Michael Murphy’s leadoff single with two quick outs.


Wally Backman, Jr. kept the inning alive with a base hit that got past rightfielder C.J. Beatty for a two-base error, sending home a run while Backman scooted to third. After Ray Serrano’s second hit of the game pulled the hosts within 5-4, Sanchez hit a towering two-run homer to right center to give his team a 6-5 lead.


Priddy’s seventh-inning rocket, needless to say, was every bit as big.


“I’m just seeing the ball right now,’’ said the Loveland, Colo., native. “It’s my seventh year playing (pro ball) and they say you learn how to hit when you’re 28, 29 years old.’’


“Lang really came up big tonight,’’ added Priddy. “He’s got some speed and he makes things happen. This is a fun team.’’