TERRY HERSOM email@example.com
SIOUX CITY | For all the positives that kept showing up as they won four of their first five games, the Sioux City Explorers are starting to pay for their suspect defense.
Picking up their league-worst 12th and 13th errors in just seven contests, the X’s saw unearned runs cost them a victory for the second game in a row, dropping a 4-3 verdict to the Lincoln Saltdogs in a rain-interrupted matchup at Lewis and Clark Park.
Squandering a superb performance from starting pitcher Alain Quijano, the Explorers surrendered two unearned runs, the second one snapping a 3-3 tie in the ninth inning after leftfielder Yusuke Inoguchi dropped a routine fly ball to open the frame.
Inoguchi’s costly misplay on a lazy fly by C.J. Beatty wound up plating the game winner after base hits by D’Angelo Jiminez and Brad Payne loaded the bases with one out for Mike Provencher, whose sacrifice fly to center field let the deciding tally cross.
Kept afloat by Quijano’s six strong innings, surrendering just two hits and one unearned run, the X’s broke through with three sixth-inning runs, only to see the bullpen help the guests tie it with a pair of walks before Provencher’s game-tying two-run single in the eighth inning.
Burned by an unearned run that decided Wednesday’s 3-2 matinee setback at Haymarket Park, the Explorers’ early defensive struggles continued in the third inning of this one, delayed for 61 minutes when rain hit midway through the first stanza.
After back-to-back walks to open the inning, the X’s caught a break when Provencher’s sacrifice bunt attempt was popped up for the first out.
However, when Asif Shah followed with a high pop to the right side, drawing an infield fly rule call, first baseman Kris Sanchez muffed the catch and then threw wildly to third base with Lincoln’s Alan Rick attempting to move over from second.
The errant throw permitted Rick to scamper home with the game’s first run on a throw Sanchez would have been better off not making.
And, the 1-0 lead held up until the sixth, when the X’s finally broke through against Ryan Sheldon, a 6-6, 220-pound righthander from Kearney, Neb., who was one of the Frontier League’s premier starters the last two seasons.
Sheldon, 21-10 with earned run averages of 2.82 and 2.21 in two seasons with the Normal (Ill.) CornBelters, had a one-hit shutout through five innings, surrendering only Michael Lang’s infield single in the third inning.
In the sixth, though, Brandon Newton worked a one-out walk and moved to second on Inoguchi’s single up the middle.
Wally Backman Jr. yanked a game-tying single to right field and then Ray Serrano roped a two-run double into the left-field corner to send the Explorers in front, 3-1.
Then, after the superb outing by Quijano, reliever Andrew Snowdon served up a leadoff walk in the seventh before picking up two outs and yielding the hill to “Everyday Eddie’’ De La Cruz.
The sidearming De La Cruz, proceeded to walk veteran catcher Alan Rick on five pitches and work the count full to Payne before the rookie out of Northwestern College drilled a base hit off the pitcher, loading the bases.
De La Cruz was one pitch from escaping the jam, but Provencher, the Saltdogs’ leadoff hitter, bounced a 0-2 pitch through the right side of the infield for a two-run single that tied the game at 3-3.
Chris Bodishbaugh, shaky in one of two previous outings as the Explorers’ new closer, gave up two hits in the game’s final frame, absorbing the loss with the unearned run on the ninth-inning error. Meanwhile, Lincoln closer P.J. Zocchi worked a perfect ninth with two strikeouts while picking up his second save in as many days.
Payne, a native of Alta, finished with two hits, two walks and two stolen bases in four plate appearances, continuing to perform well for a team that will likely move him to the bench after picking up shortstop Joe Spiers on Thursday in a trade with the York (Pa.) Revolution of the Atlantic League.