The players don’t sit there and tell each other, “OK, this is it, this is the key point in the season.” And the manager and his staff don’t play that game either. The drill is to keep playing hard, make the changes you need to make, and let the chips fall where they may.
Nonetheless, after engineering a number of recent roster moves, the Roadrunners do understand that this would be a good time to get on a winning streak.
“This is a big series for us,” said hitting star Robert Matlock Thursday as the team returned from an 8-game road trip to face RGV for four and then Coastal Bend for four more through July 30. “But we are not putting pressure in ourselves. I mean, last year at this point, I think we were in Amarillo, and we put on a win streak, something like 11 in a row and it got us into the playoffs…so, let’s just say that we don’t discuss it, but it’s there. The season is probably hanging in the balance the next couple of weeks.”
The Runners went 3-5 on the road trip, and ended up dropping the first game of the homestand to RGV, 10-6. Before the topsy-turvy match where Edinburg trailed 6-1 before tying it up but losing late, manager Vince Moore talked a little about what it’s like to ride the river of a long minor league season.
“We have struggled all year and quite frankly, we’re fortunate to be in this position,” said the fourth-year skipper, whose club is in fourth place with the WhiteWings on their heels. “We haven’t hit really well yet and we have given away a bunch of games with bad defense. But right now, I think we have solved the latter problem.”
Thursday marked the start of the second half of the ULB season and Edinburg began it with a new double-play combination. And in the early going of the series starter, the new guys showed why Moore pulled the lever to get them.
Shortstop B.J. Wheeler (Abilene Cooper High School, Oklahoma City University) exhibited great range in the field and banged out a solid base hit to center. Venezuelan second sacker Wilmer Pino was dynamite, fielding a slow roller on the run to deftly throw out a runner in the first, and then springing to his left to corral a shot, rolling on a shoulder toward first and eventually completing a spectacular 4-to-3 play an inning later. He also hammered four hits, including a first-inning double from the leadoff spot, and a single that tied things in the sixth. He looks like a super athlete with great hands.
“Like I said, those guys are going to make the defense so much better,” said Moore, who moved hot-hitting Carlos Hereaud to designated hitter with veterans Eric Gonzalez at third and Bryon Smith at first. “If you can hit OK and get good defense, it’s easier for the pitchers. And we have really gotten decent pitching all year long, that hasn’t been the problem.”
Moore said that Wheeler is a smooth at short, and the important thing is that he’s just 23 years old.
“You have to have the young guys because they’re hungry,” said the former all-star outfielder who played for the original Roadrunners among other teams before taking the reins with the Coyotes in 2006. “We also have some veterans around who can work with the rookies like B.J., to show them what pro ball is all about, how to do things.”
With the arrival of several new faces in town, the inevitable bell tolled for one of the most popular players, outfielder Amado German, who was released last week after hitting a measly .210 in 119 at-bats. Moore commented that letting players go is the toughest part of being a pro manager.
“I can’t keep guys just because I like them,” he explained. “Amado was a good friend of mine who has contributed a lot around here in three years. But there comes a time when you have to make the decision. With Amado, I could tell that he was struggling from training camp; he just didn’t seem ready to play. He always had a great work ethic and I care a lot about him as a person. But it just came to that and we have to move on without him.”
The Wing series represented a good chance for the new-look Runners to get their act together and make a run for the postseason, something town teams have been able to do in six of the previous eight seasons.
“There are 21 other guys trying to win a ring out there, so we have to let people go when they can no longer do the job,” Moore noted. “I think I am one of the nicest managers around, I will give a guy more than a few chances to prove he can still get it done. We aren’t through making moves, though, and I can promise you that we are working to get a few more veteran sticks in here…we still need some more punch in the lineup.”
NOTES: The Runners salvaged one win over the weekend, blasting the Wings 10-3 Sunday after losing three straight. Bryon Smith started the hit parade with a solo homer, his fourth, in the fourth, and Danny Rondon hurled six strong innings for his first win of the year as the team improved to 20-24, for fifth in the league, RGV having passed the Runners with the 3-1 road trip at the Stadium.