by Dan Vaughan
Grand Prairie, Texas — If the Kansas City T-Bones (55-41) make it to the post-season, nights like Thursday in Texas could be the reason why.
Hobbled by injuries, missing key players, starters leaving the game because of injury, the T-Bones nevertheless got key hits with two outs, and clutch performances from the bullpen to fight off a tough challenge from the Texas AirHogs, 3-2.
In the top of the third the T-Bones got the bats going with a leadoff walk from Ramsey Romano and a single from Dylan Tice. After a pair of fly ball outs Daniel Nava gave the T-Bones a 1-0 lead with a two-out RBI single to center off Texas starter Travis Ballew. Mason Davis followed with another RBI single to score Tice and KC had a 2-0 lead.
The AirHogs answered in the home half of the third on two unearned runs off T-Bones starter left-handed pitcher T.J. House (2-0). From there the two teams locked up in a tie game as Ballew and House kept the game even into the sixth.
Ballew tossed five innings before leaving after the fifth scattering six hits. KC took the lead in the sixth, but the inning proved costly to an already depleted T-Bones lineup. Omar Carrizales singled to start the inning against Texas reliever Paul Perez. With two outs Tice had a double down the left field line to give the T-Bones the lead they never surrendered.
Shawn O’Malley tried to leg out an infield single and dove into the first base bag. He landed head first and stayed on the ground for several minutes holding his back, was helped up to his feet and left the game with an apparent back injury.
The T-Bones had to insert Casey Gillaspie into the lineup, who had been given the night off after hitting a ball off his foot the night before. The team was already without all-star catcher Roy Morales, on the inactive list and was missing Chris Colabello, who is with Team Italy in a series in Spain. Mason Davis was slowed with a banged-up leg as well and the T-Bones, who were already shorthanded, now faced another challenge.
Stewart Ijames came into play second and Tice moved to third with Romano going to short stop and Danny Mars going to right from left to make room for Gillaspie. Ijames played three games at second earlier this year with Texas before the Aug. 21 trade to Kansas City, but they were the only three games he had played at second in 612 career minor league games.
House worked 5.2 innings, holding the AirHogs to just three hits with nine strike outs.
The T-Bones pen held on after House left the game in the sixth. Hunter Smith was big for KC as he was brought in for House with runners at first and third and the T-Bones clinging to a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth.
Smith was able to get pinch hitter Yang Jin to line out to second for the third out of the inning, ending the threat for Texas. Smith worked a scoreless seventh before Robert Calvano worked a 1-2-3 eighth for Kansas City.
Carlos Diaz came in in the bottom of the ninth and after getting one out walked a batter, then retired the next two, including the final out on a strike out of Justin Byrd, to notch his 12th save. House (2-0) was the winner, while Perez (2-2) was tagged with the loss. The AirHogs are now 26-71 on the season.
The T-Bones remain very much alive in the playoff hunt. Thursday night Sioux City (56-40) beat Sioux Falls 8-1 and remained in first place in the American Association South Division, while Cleburne (56-40) also won 2-0 over Lincoln.
KC trails both clubs by one game with four to play, four of which are against Sioux City at JustBats Field at T-Bones Stadium starting Friday night.
The game will be on the T-Bones Broadcast Network, http://mixlr.com/t-bones-baseball/. It will be the final home stand of the season with the first pitch at 7:05 p.m. Friday against Sioux City.
Tickets to all T-Bones home games are on sale online or by calling 913-328-5618 or by visiting the Saint Luke’s Box Office between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Group ticket sales are also on sale.