Thursday was a big day, as a new addition shook things up a bit in the clubhouse, and on the field, they finally began to check some of the unmarked boxes Vince Moore has been complaining about for the last few weeks.
On its face, the 12-6 Roadrunner victory over Coastal Bend may not seem monumental, although it did keep the team in first place by a game over second place Amarillo. It’s how the job was done that matters in the long run.
With former league MVP Nelson Teilon stretching a uniform around his steel-fired body and joining the lineup, Edinburg improved to 35-21 by scoring eight runs in an interminable fourth inning to rally from a 3-2 hole.
Moore has been disappointed in his defense and the team’s inability to get the big hit, but Thursday, after the ‘Runners had squandered a 9-game lead in the ULB since mid-June, it all came together. They are just 10-13 since July 4.
First, team leader Wilson Batista doubled in two runs in the bottom of the first with two outs. Clutch hit for sure, since the team has been leaving runners on base too much lately.
Next, it was the defense coming up big, as catcher Ossie Flores blocked a ball in the dirt on a bounce from pitcher Mike Reeves with his facemask; though a run later scored in the second to tie the game at 2, this was the kind of all-out effort the manager was looking for.
“You have to stop giving the other team four outs an inning,” said Moore, whose group took off to San Angelo for a 4-game road trip, to return to the Valley Tuesday for an 8-game homestand. “And as far as hitting, well, we get guys to second and third, we have to drive them in. If not, you can’t win many games.”
It got better, as Robert Matlock turned in an excellent catch in left field, hauling in the ball over his shoulder on the run at the warning track. Earlier, he’d thrown out a runner at the plate, helped by a super swiping tag from Flores, as the team stops tightened up.
From there, the offense exploded for eight in the fourth to put it away as Batista, who would finish with 5 RBI on a 4-for-5 night to raise his average to .305, got two hits in a 40-minute inning before over 5,000 fans at the Stadium. Wilmer Pino also contributed a huge hit in that rally, as the bats battled against after a slow spurt that has lasted two weeks.
Teilon was 0 for 3 in his first game back after having dominated the league in 2007 with 95 RBI and a .364 average. But the ‘Runners didn’t need him, yet, as Felix Molina scored three runs and socked his third homer of the season.
Bringing the slugging 30-year-old back to town was a move to improve pop in the middle of the lineup. Teilon has enjoyed two great years in the Mexican League since he left town, and was batting over .300 with 17 homers for Campeche when Moore convinced him to return. But another reason to add the star outfielder is subtler.
“Sometimes you have to send a message to some guys, that they had better pick it up or they might find themselves replaced,” Moore remarked. “I also brought in Jesse Gutierrez to take some batting practice this week and you should have seen everyone, they shagged like crazy, really worked hard. If they need some motivation, my job is to give it to them.”
The catcher Gutierrez, former UTPA home run threat, has not signed as of now, and it is unclear if he will. But his invite to BP was a way for the manager to let his charges know that no one in professional baseball can coast on talent alone.
“Some guys need a pat on the back, and others need people to get on them,” Moore explained. “For whatever reason, some of our players have not been doing the little things well enough, and we had to let them understand that the time is now to do that. You want to know why Laredo beats out butts this season even though we have better talent? It’s because they bunt, drive in runners, and make the routine plays.”
Moore doesn’t expect miracles from his guys; he just wants them to concentrate every night.
“Hey, we had on off day Wednesday and I was watching a Major League game,” he said. “And one of those guys failed to bring in a run from third with less than two outs. So it happens to the best. But I don’t want my guys getting lazy, at all.”
Aaron Guerra got the win in relief Thursday, when starter Reeves was tossed in the third inning after arguing a close call at first base. Despite this abrupt change in plans, the ‘Runners got the defense they have been lacking, and some timely hitting. Next it was off to San Angelo to see if this newfound sharpness would continue.
NOTES: Not so good, as the ‘Runners lost the first two games, 7-0 and 6-5. The pitching staff allowed five homers and the offense faltered, despite a round-tripper from Teilon in Game Two. Righty Wardell Starling went seven that night but Ray Silva surrendered a game-winning homer in the eighth to drop the team’s mark to 35-23.
Luckily, Edinburg found the power sticks Sunday night as Alexis Hernandez and Felix Molina powered two-run bombs in the third inning and Montoya went six strong innings for his eighth win of the year, 9-3.