GARY | The RailCats' loss to Wichita Thursday was hard enough to take.
For the first time this season, the 'Cats gave up a lead in the ninth inning when Wichita scored three runs with two out as Gary lost 5-4.
Then, in the clubhouse after the game, first baseman Christian Vitters was saying his goodbyes, hugging teammates, along with closer Taylor Sewitt.
Vitters, who was a pickup on June 22 after four years out of baseball, must return to school at Fresno State. He tried to arrange for late starts to his classes, even as the university president was involved, but wasn't cleared by all of his professors. He leaves as the RailCats' third-best hitter this season with a .306 average in 48 games.
He didn't start over the last two days, games in which the RailCats lost, but entered at his position and was a pinch hitter both times.
"If we had known sooner, we probably wouldn't have taken the chance on (Vitters), but we're glad we did, because he certainly has been an impact player," manager Greg Tagert said. "As with anything, I'll expect this club to roll with it. The guys in the clubhouse are aware and it's one of those things we'll have to move forward from."
Prior to the game, the team released Sewitt, a rookie reliever, to activate infielder Danny Pulfer from the disabled list. Pulfer had been out with a broken finger. Sewitt had been with the team since training camp and had a 5.03 ERA after throwing 113 pitches in 3 1/3 innings of relief Wednesday.
Despite the loss, the RailCats maintain their lead in the wildcard standings, but that lead is shrinking. Their magic number of nine has held for two days as Wichita secured its spot in the playoffs with the come-from-behind win.
The RailCats took a 4-0 lead in the first inning Thursday behind five hits against Wichita starter Anthony Capra. Ryan Brockett drove in two of those runs as he went 1-for-4.
Gary starter Billy Spottiswood loaded the bases three times in six innings, allowing just two runs. Closer Ian Durham recorded his first loss of the season after allowing a two-out walk in the ninth followed by three hits.
The loss drops the RailCats to 31-1 when leading after the eighth inning.
Though the team's margin in the wildcard race slimmed, the RailCats continue to be confident about their potential for the postseason. Gary travels to St. Paul and Kansas City before returning home for a season-closing three-game series against El Paso.
"I think there's no question in my mind Wichita is the toughest opponent in this league that we have. I'm still feeling really good with how we match up against them, overall we've won more than we've lost against them and that still gives us a lot of confidence going into the playoffs," said left fielder Adam Klein, who was 2-for-5 with a double and a run. "As we've approached every game this season, we've got to let it go and clear it and be ready for the next one. There's no question in my mind that every game is the most important game of the season from this point on."