The return of the Roadrunners to the Stadium produced the eighth playoff trip for the franchise in nine seasons. Despite flagging attendance, the team made all the right roster moves in midseason and rallied in the last month from a 24-27 mark to win 22 of its final 29 games to clinch second place behind San Angelo.
They won the first game of the playoffs against Amarillo but dropped the second, both at home. That necessitated the rubber match up in Amarillo, which the Runners lost, 12-11, in 10 innings.
Here is a look at how the numbers played out for this year’s bunch:
This year the strength of the team was the pitching, as the Roadrunners led the league with a 3.68 team ERA. The staff under Coach Lupe Salinas was especially effective in the second half of the campaign.
Despite getting bombed in the playoffs, Tim Haines was the most effective Runners hillman this summer, with a 9-5 mark and a 2.68 ERA. The righty from Mission struck out 92 batters and allowed just two home runs in 111 innings for a super season.
Miguel Martinez won his last six decisions to finish at 9-4, with a 4.34 ERA and a team-leading 93 K’s. He was definitely one of the bunch’s most improved players in 2009. Fellow lefty Pedro Flores started slowly but ended up 5-5 with a solid 3.45 ERA, and he had a hand in the team’s 12-game winning streak late in the year that pushed it to second place in the ULB.
Veteran Eric Montoya was saddled with injuries but managed a 6-4 mark with a 3.24 ERA, and he gained the win in the season finale Aug. 31 against Amarillo, hurling the Redclads to homefield advantage in the subsequent series with the Dillas. Though he arrived in June, righty Danny Rondon was a big lift, winning six of seven decisions with a 3.63 ERA, giving the staff yet another consistent starter for the stretch run.
Out of the bullpen, UTPA ex Kelly Casares saved 17 ball games with a 3.41 ERA, while fellow Bronc alum Aaron Guerra transitioned from starting to relief, posting a 4.20 ERA and winning three times. Bryan Heaston competed hard all year in middle relief, with a 4.30 ERA all told.
Middle relief was a sure bet for Manager Vince Moore in 2009, with Heaston and Guerra there. Also, Brian Martin (2.77 in 26 IP) and rookie Ricardo Serrano (2.05 in 27 IP) did their jobs well when called upon.
The Runners hit .275 as a team, with only 34 home runs but 108 steals and the knack for manufacturing runs and getting timely hits. They raised the average clip from .257 in late July.
Robert “Matty” Matlock led the way with a .329 average, driving in 40 runs and scoring a team-best 63 while splitting time at first base, left field, and DH. He also stole 17 bases with smart baserunning skills making up for average speed. Unstoppable in the clutch, “Matty” led the team with 106 hits this year.
Outfielder Vincent Blue was touted as an offensive force before the season, and he came through all summer, hitting .302 with a team-best 66 walks, plus 17 steals and 55 runs. His defense was outstanding in center, and like Matlock he seemed to relish the pressure situations at the plate.
Infielder Carlos Hereaud, though he slumped somewhat in August, finished at .277 but led the squad with 57 RBI, and was also first with 19 doubles for a .402 slugging percentage. He stole 11 bases and made 15 errors, playing three positions intermittently this season. Hereaud is only 23, and quite a pro prospect, say the coaches.
The veteran influence this season came from IF-OF Eric Gonzalez (.231, 10 steals, 36 RBI) and 1B Bryon Smith, who surged late to post a .281 average with six homers and 47 RBI. Smith’s patience at the plate produced 51 walks, and he was among the best defensive players in the league.
Edinburg’s catching tandem of Ossie Flores and Cam McGuire produced nine homers and 51 RBI, with McGuire leading the team with seven dingers. Flores hit .263 while McGuire was at .228.
As it was, newcomers made a huge difference down the stretch as former Runner Hector Garanzuay returned to hit .263 in 42 AB and play great D at short. McAllen star Sergio “Keko” Guerrero slamming away for a .383 mark in 60 trips; both those guys entered the fray in August after seasons in the Mexican League. Tall outfielder Hunter Owen smacked six homers after joining the mix midway through, and became a regular fixture in right field. Like Hereaud, he’s a young kid with a lot of upside.
But the main man out of the roster moves turned out to be Wilmer Pino, who hit a robust .347 with 13 steals and a .479 slugging mark in 34 games. He also solidified the mix at second base despite a spate of injuries in the last two weeks of the campaign, and was as instrumental as anyone in the Runners’ rise to the postseason.
Though his playing time lagged down the stretch, Nick “Mr. Hustle” Aranda was once again an upbeat, dependable clubhouse leader who stole 17 bases in part-time duty.