Starting pitchers lead T-Bones past RedHawks
Going into last week's series with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, the Kansas City T-Bones weren't supposed to be the ones with the dominant pitching staff.
The RedHawks owned the second-best ERA in the Northern League, but were shown up by the T-Bones starting rotation, which led Kansas City to a 2-1 series victory.
Jonathan Krysa and Larry Robles set the tone against Fargo with back-to-back dominant starts. Krysa, a 27-year-old Rockhurst University alum, pitched a two-hit shutout Friday night, striking out nine in the T-Bones 9-0 victory.
Robles was nearly as good Saturday, tossing seven innings of shutout ball before giving way to the T-Bones' bullpen. The relievers ran into a bit of trouble, but were able to hold on for a 5-3 victory, which was the third straight for Robles.
The 16 straight shutout innings by Krysa and Robles came against a Fargo-Moorhead squad that had the top record in the north division and the Northern League's second-best batting average.
"We got really good pitching two nights in a row from our starters," Kansas City manager Al Gallagher said. "They are a good team and we have to play very hard against them, but when we get that kind of pitching it makes it a lot easier."
While Krysa and Robles dominated on the mound, the T-Bones' offense took advantage of walks, the one area that has seriously plagued an otherwise intimidating Fargo pitching staff.
The RedHawks, who lead the league in walks allowed, handed out 11 free passes on Friday and five more on Saturday. The base runners were a big lift to a Kansas City lineup that came into the series with the league's lowest batting average.
The T-Bones were able to take the lead in the third inning Saturday when Fargo starter Brandon Culp ran into serious control problems. He walked four of the inning's first five batters, forcing in the game's first run. T-Bones first baseman Charles Peterson followed with a one-out single up the middle that scored two runs.
Kansas City got to Culp again in the fourth, loading the bases on three singles and then getting a sacrifice fly from left fielder Doug Dreher to go up 4-0. That was all for Culp, who was one of the league's most promising hurlers last year but clearly didn't have his stuff Saturday.
"That's not the Brandon Culp who won 14 games and was Pitcher of the Year last season," Gallagher said. "He's struggling with his control and he's just not in sync right now. He's one of the best in the league so we were fortunate."
Robles looked ready to take his place among the league's best on Saturday and he got help from some stellar infield play.
After getting a 3-0 lead to work with he walked the RedHawks leadoff man, but had the base runner erased by a highlight-reel double-play. Fargo-Moorehead's cleanup hitter, Ruben Salazar, drilled a grounder that was almost identical to Peterson's two-run single. But shortstop Chad Sosebee ranged far to his left, made a sliding stop, and started the double play. It turned out to be a huge twin killing, as the next two batters walked and doubled before Robles was able to get out of the inning with a fly ball.
The RedHawks never really threatened Robles after that, as the right-hander only seemed to get stronger as the game went on. In the seventh his fastball was still grazing 90 mph and he struck out two batters that inning, his fourth and fifth strikeouts of the game. Still, after seven shutout innings, his pitch count was at 109 and Gallagher said he had no choice but to pull the 25-year-old and save his arm for future outings.
"It was not a hard decision," Gallagher said. "You can't win the division in one night and we're going to need Larry Robles to pitch like that again."
But as soon as Gallagher went to the bullpen, the 5-0 game turned into an adventure. Ryan Tauscher walked the first two batters he faced, then gave up a single to load the bases. He gave way to James Morrison, who also got off to a shaky start. Salazar laced a double to deep center off Morrison, clearing the bases and bringing the tying run to the plate. Morrison was able to get the next batter to ground out, but Gallagher decided to go to his bullpen again, bringing in closer Byron Embry. Embry made his presence felt immediately, setting up Fargo's Jesse Hoorelbecke with a couple of mid-90s fastballs before striking him out with a 70-mph change-up that Hoorelbeke was way out in front of. Embry stranded Salazar at third when he got the next hitter on a towering pop-up.
The flame-throwing right hander got the first two outs in the ninth fairly easily before his control suddenly disappeared. He proceeded to walk the bases loaded for Salazar, the RedHawks' most dangerous hitter. But he was able to get Salazar on a deep fly to center, closing out the save and the 5-3 victory.
From the Grill:
- ttendance at Saturday's game was 7,006, a season-high at Community America Ballpark.
- Eddie Pearson, Kansas City's 250-lb. designated hitter, legged out two infield hits on Saturday.
- T-Bones third baseman Brandon Jones was shaken up and left the game after being hit by a pitch in the eighth inning. He appeared to be OK after the game and was back in the lineup Sunday.