It must have felt like an eternity for the Tucson Saguaros, their bats quieted, stuck in neutral.
After scoring in double-digits on the regular, the offense more potent than moonshine, Tucson’s Pecos League squad must have thought someone turned out the lights last week.
Four runs, three runs, five, one, three, four — this wasn’t the pace they set, the standard they’d established. Even worse? Four losses in those six games, certainly off their league-record wins pace.
You can’t spell battery without bat, and heading into the post-Independence Day rest — a two-day break that must’ve felt like a spa vacation — it was clear the Saguaros needed to recharge.
And recharge they did, scoring 14 runs on both Thursday and Friday to awaken a sleepy lineup, before the pitching dominated in Tucson’s 4-0 win Saturday.
“Coming off a long series with Roswell, we found out a lot about ourselves,” said All-Star second baseman Michael Rampone. “We stepped up (Thursday) and knew we’ve beaten White Sands a lot of times, and we needed to go out and do it.”
If they are to hold off the Invaders, they’ll need to keep doing it.
Three of Tucson’s four losses since June 29 came at the hands of Roswell, the second-place team in the league and inching closer to the Saguaros standard.
On Thursday against White Sands, though, Tucson discovered what it was missing. Pressure on the pitcher, mainly. The top of the Saguaros lineup had seven hits on Thursday in a 14-10 win, then six on Friday in a 14-11 win, with No. 5 hitter Jesse Baker adding four hits himself.
“We have guys one-through-nine who can be that catalyst,” said Baker, who was also named to next week’s All-Star game. “We were down five runs (Thursday), one man got on, next guy got on, next thing you know, we get three backside hits to score runs, and we just take it from there. Over and over, our hitting coach hasn’t preached much physical stuff, just mental. I’ll give it to Roswell, they have a fantastic staff – us and them, two of the best in the league – but I think we were mentally fatigued.”
Manager J.D. Droddy laid out the brass tacks: Tucson played 41 games in 39 days to start the season with nary an off day, and as Droddy said, “You play every day, and it grinds you down.”
With the All-Star break giving a few more days rest next week, Tucson has the juice back up to head into the stretch run with some confidence.
After a blistering start, there’s bound to be some left in the tank.
Tucson, remember, scored more than 10 runs in seven of its first 14 games, and the Saguaros still boast eight regulars with batting averages above .300.
“All year we’ve supplied a lot of runs, and a real lot in the beginning of the year,” Rampone said. “That just showed how good we really are. When we first got here, we didn’t know each other’s abilities, we were just being ourselves and we were putting up that many runs. It really showed us we’re a force to be reckoned with. But it can be difficult to stay on that kind of pace.”
Added Baker: “Looking at the guys coming in from spring training, we knew we had guys who could swing it. We knew we’d come in and be a powerhouse offense, making the defense get out of position.
“It was a little surprising scoring close to 20 runs … that’s just unheard of.”
And it might be later this year, too.
Despite his potent offense, Droddy knows and preaches that pitching is what brings home championships. In the Pecos League, though, it’s not always a given.
“We haven’t had many 2-1, 3-1 kind of games,” Rampone said. “But as much as hitting is important in the playoffs, so is pitching. If we keep them to a single-digit number, we should be able to get a W.
“A lot of teams can bang it around out here.”