In the first inning Thursday, “Papi” showed with a gesture what the Roadrunners seem to be all about in 2010. Wilson Batista, aka “Papi,” called time to walk to the mound from shortstop and have a word with pitcher Wardell Starling.
The big righty had thrown over to first four times already, and Batista wanted to get him to concentrate on the Laredo hitters. Starling would eventually go seven innings, fanning six for his third win of the year. The team would lead most the way, getting a homer from red-hot Carlos Hereuad and another from slugging outfielder Ambiorix Concepcion. The defense was once again superb in a 5-3 victory.
But the keynote was that early visit to the hill by Batista, because it illustrates what manager Vince Moore is looking for in 2010: leadership.
“I have to say that this year’s team is one of the best I have ever had in the regard that there are three or four guys who have really stepped up as leaders,” said Moore, whose club took the opener of a four-game stand against Laredo and is now 12-3, first in the ULB. “These guys know how to take charge and they’re doing it. They’re not afraid to talk it out.”
When the team started the campaign, there were several fielding lapses that caused a few problems. But the infielders, led by Batista and third baseman Felix Molina, took it upon themselves to stop the bleeding, and fast that first week.
“They came to me and said they were going to be out at the park at 3:30, taking extra infield early,” Moore recalled. “And that’s when I knew we had a special group of guys. In independent ball, everyone is sort of playing for himself, to try and move up. But my guys have shown they want to win and do well, but they want to do it as a team.”
Batista, hitting over .300 so far with super infield D, also got the offense going Thursday, in front of a rowdy and crazy Thirsty Thursday crowd of over 3,600. He coaxed a two-out walk in the first after being down in the count. Concepcion, who is not that big but has some major pop in his bat, then cranked a line-drive homer to left for a 2-0 lead.
Starling allowed just six hits on the night and it was 4-3, Edinburg after four, courtesy of a run-scoring groundout by Robert Matlock that broke a 3-3 tie in the fourth. From there it was quiet until Hereaud thumped his fourth homer of the year, in the sixth. The second-year first baseman from Venezuela started the year in the .270s but is on fire lately, having raising his average to over .340 on the recent homestand. He went deep for some insurance and a 5-3 lead that held up as the Runners won their sixth straight.
“Carlos is really doing it right now, and the key is keeping him fresh,” said Moore, in his sixth year at the helm of the franchise. “He wore down a little last summer, and we want to keep him rested so he can hit the ball like he’s capable of doing.”
With five runs on the board, Edinburg turned the ball over to its outstanding bullpen for the final two frames. It came through well, with former UTPA star Ray Silva looking dominant in the eighth, and veteran Julio Castro guiding the ship home in the ninth for his fourth save.
Moore said the hard-throwing Silva may not be around long if he continues to get people out with such ease.
“There is a guy who should be in affiliated ball,” said the skipper. “He was with the Cards until he had arm trouble, but now he’s healthy and looking great. He has topped out at 93, 94 miles per hour, and who knows. Maybe he’ll get another shot, I think he can do it.”
Through the first 15 games, the Runners have made the plays in every aspect, and the excellent team chemistry is obvious.
“We all get along well, everyone does his job and we have a good time doing it,” said catcher Eddie Wilson, who started behind the plate Thursday as regular backstop Ossie Flores recovers from a severely sprained ankle suffered in the San Angelo series just past. “The vibe is excellent around here right now.”
NOTES: UTPA president Robert Nelsen was in attendance at the ball game, with a group representing the university’s creative marketing department.
Hereaud and Alexis Hernandez had two hits apiece; Hernandez is leading the team right now with an average over .500. He doesn’t kill the ball but Moore said the veteran makes a habit of spoiling good pitches with timely knocks.
Tim Haines (2-0) was to face off with All-Star Santos Hernandez from Laredo Friday night. The Broncos are off to a middling 4-11 start in 2010.