Sunday afternoon featured a brilliant display of the art of pitching courtesy of the Wichita Wingnuts’ Jon Link and Danny Gutierrez of the Grand Prairie AirHogs at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Despite neither of them factoring in the final decision, Link struck out a Wingnuts’ single-game record 16 hitters and Gutierrez took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. In the ninth, David Espinosa decided the contest by launching a walk-off solo home run that gave Wichita a 2-1 win.
Despite being unable to tally a hit against Gutierrez, the Wingnuts (59-26) were able to take the lead in the third inning thanks to some small ball. New addition, Jared McDonald walked to begin the frame and proceeded to steal both second and third base to move just 90 feet away. Ryan Khoury took advantage, driving in the game’s first run on a sacrifice fly to left field that made it 1-0. The run batted in was the 50th of the campaign for the leadoff hitter.
At that point, control of the game was turned over to the pitchers for most of the afternoon. Link, who leads the American Association with 11 wins, racked up multiple strikeouts in every one of his innings on the hill. He fanned two in the first, struck out the side in both the second and third, and then whiffed a pair of hitters in frames four through seven. The right-hander surpassed the franchise’s single-game record for strikeouts in the sixth inning, but did not stop there. He added three more strikeouts to raise the new standard to 16. The former Los Angeles Dodger had thrown 114 pitches through seven innings so he was removed from the contest holding a 1-0 lead. Aside from the punch outs, Link allowed only two hits and walked a lone batter.
Mike Zouzalik (3-0) entered the game in the ninth inning and walked the leadoff hitter, Frazier Hall for a tough start. Eric Baker bunted Hall into scoring position and then the outfielder crossed home plate on a ground ball that went under the glove of Espinosa at first. The run was unearned, but still prevented Link from having an opportunity to pick up the win.
Gutierrez entered the eighth inning with new life and still had not given up a hit. With two outs, Taylor Oldham finally broke through for the first hit by ripping a line drive over everybody’s head and off the top of the wall in left for a double. Gutierrez was removed to applause from the crowd and would watch the thrilling finish from the dugout. Ty’Relle Harris (4-4) came out of the bullpen and recorded the final out of the inning to send the game into the ninth with the score even.
After Zouzalik shut down the AirHogs (38-49) in the top of the ninth, Espinosa atoned for his tough play on the field earlier by driving a Harris offering over the wall in right and sending a stream of teammates onto the field to celebrate wildly as he crossed the plate. The home run was the fifth of the season for Espinosa and the first walk-off home run of the year for the team. Wichita improved to 32-10 at home.
The Wingnuts will welcome to town the Lincoln Saltdogs on Monday for a three-game series between division leaders. RHP Jason Van Skike (9-4) will start the first game for the Wingnuts against LHP Kevin McGovern (3-1) of the Saltdogs. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m.