Wednesday night’s postseason opener for the Garden City Wind at Clint Lightner Stadium must have been an unwelcome flashback to worse days gone by for pitcher Craig Jaquez.
One of the few returners from last year’s last-place squad, Jaquez has enjoyed the solid — sometimes spectacular — play from this year’s team.
But Wednesday, and especially the seventh inning, was a return to the putrid, and the Wind fell, 9-7, to Trinidad, Colo., in Game 1 of a best-of-three series with the visiting Triggers for the right to advance to the Pecos League championship.
“It’s just the way the game goes, honestly,” Jaquez said after the loss, setting up Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. Game 2 at Clint Lightner as a must win for the Wind. “One day you can be on top of the world, and the next you’re struggling a little bit, but it’s all about how you come back.”
Wednesday was more than a struggle, with the Wind committing six errors compared to none by the Triggers. Instead of solid play with flashes of fantastic, it was sub-par with flashes of amateur from the Wind, who are now a loss away from ending the season much earlier than they hoped after a 38-26 regular season division title.
A spectacular play could have stopped the Triggers’ four-run outburst in the seventh that spotted them an 8-5 lead. Even a few solid plays could have limited it.
The inning started off the bat of Bradley Cuyos, who sent Jaquez’s (third of six Wind pitchers) pitch to right field, where a play from Eli Roundtree could have resulted in an out. A solid one would have left Cuyos at first. Instead, Roundtree slipped and the ball bounced off the wall. Then, Roundtree airmailed his throw past second, and Cuyos, who had stopped after his turn at first, tried to advance. The Wind had another chance to make a fundamental play to cut him down there, as Beau Welborn cut off the overthrow and had plenty of time to make an accurate throw to second. But after some hesitation, Welborn finally made the toss, but it was high, and Cuyos was in safely.
Back-to-back singles scored him, the former even resulting in a bobbled pickup, and the Triggers had the lead. After that, Jaquez was out of the game, the losing pitcher of record after 11/3 innings in relief, giving up three runs on three hits and a pair of walks.
But the defense continued to falter.
A web gem by center fielder Eric Esquilin on a sinking line drive could have limited the damage, but Esquilin pulled up short and let the ball fall in, bringing in another run.
A fly ball to right field produced the second out, and Roundtree unleashed a rocket to try to get a tagging Trevor Sealey out at home. The throw was in line, but catcher Brandon Nelson was unable to catch it and make the tag. Finally, an Eric Williams single brought in the final run of the outburst to make it 9-5 Triggers.
The inning did in the Wind, who had previously knocked around Triggers’ starter Kyle McKay for five runs in the first, but didn’t score again until the seventh — too little, too late.
“I don’t know (what went wrong),” a downcast Wind manager Bill Moore said afterward. “If I knew, I would have repaired it.”
The Triggers got things started with a run in the first, after Trevor Sealey looped a single to left, advanced to second on an error, moved to third on a ground out and then scored on Eric Williams’ infield dribbler between short and third.
The Wind responded quickly in the first as Welborn smacked a single to right to score Eric Esquilin, who had reached on a single a batter earlier, and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
The Wind made it 2-1 three batters later on Nick Francis’ single to left to plate Welborn. Then, Eli Roundtree went round trip, breaking it open by clubbing a hanging curve to right center for the three-run home run and a 5-1 advantage.
After back-to-back walks, McKay’s night was done, and a cavalcade of effective Triggers relievers went to the mound, with Williams, who also played left and center field, getting the win after his three innings, giving up two runs on four hits.
The Triggers got two back in the third, when Brian Frazier and John Nicholson doubled in the span of three at bats. Then, Nick Todero singled to put runners at the corners and Wind starter Austin Boyle began to struggle with his command.
The diminutive right-hander walked each of the next two batters to bring in a run and make it 5-3. Against Sealey, Boyle ran the count to 3-0, each ball bringing criticisms of the ump’s call from the Wind faithful. But Boyle was able to rebound and pour three strikes past Sealey, the final a hard fastball across the meat of the plate, blowing past a late Sealey swing to end the threat.
But the Triggers continued — and ultimately completed — their comeback in the fourth, when Williams delivered again. This time, instead of an infield dribbler, it was a launched double to the base of the wall to center field, scoring a pair of runners to knot the score at 5.
The Wind had a golden opportunity to pull back ahead in the sixth, putting runners on second and third with one out on Willie Ethington’s double after Clay Ardeeser walked. But Roundtree grounded to first, and did not run to the bag, and Trigger first baseman Brian Frazier alertly threw home to tag Ardeeser out trying to score, and the ensuing throw went back to first to force out Roundtree and end the inning.
The base-running blunder was just the beginning, as the fateful seventh was next.
Trinidad 102 200 400 — 9 12 0
Garden City 500 000 200 — 7 12 6
McKay, Karasinski(1), Swartout(3), Williams(5), Fahey(8), Monda(8), Eigner(9) and Cuyos. Boyle, Powers(5), Jaquez(6), White(7), Bahn(8), Gammon(9) and Nelson. W—Williams. L—Jaquez. Sv—Eigner. 2B—Trinidad: Frazier (2), Nicholson 2 (2); Garden City: Ethington (1), Roundtree (1). HR—Garden City: Roundtree (1).