SIOUX CITY -- Reflecting Sunday night on his team’s worst consecutive performances of the young American Association baseball season, Sioux City Explorers’ Manager Steve Montgomery had a very clear picture of things.
When it comes to his baseball team, he almost always does.
Same, actually, goes for his golf game, which he got to enjoy at Monday’s Explorers Golf Outing at Two Rivers Golf Club, a much-needed day off.
“It’s humbling,’’ said Montgomery after watching his team fall behind 8-0 early in two straight contests they wound up losing 9-6 and 8-1 to the Gary SouthShore RailCats. “Now, we have an off day (Monday). Enjoy it and then turn the focus to Winnipeg . You’re playing the big boys now. You’re playing the big boys for the next month.’’
With Central Division titles the last two years and the first back-to-back playoff appearances in franchise history, “Mongo” would like nothing more than to bring home the first league championship in this 25th season for the club.
Things were certainly looking up just a week ago today, when consecutive road wins in Fargo spoiled the rush of a 9-1 start for the RedHawks. The Explorers improved to 9-2 and were riding an eight-game winning streak when the Hawks shut down the Sioux City bats, winning 5-1 and 4-1 to split the four-game series.
Returning to Lewis and Clark Park with a 10-4 mark -- still their best record ever after 14 games -- the X’s thought they just might keep winning like they did with a 6-for-6 showing in their last homestand. However, the RailCats, a perennially youth-oriented team league rivals constantly fail to give proper respect, were thinking otherwise.
It turned out to be quite a weekend for Greg Tagert, the Cats’ 13th-year manager, and a 23-man roster that includes an astonishing 15 rookies. Tagert, who has had only one losing record after nine years as a Frontier League skipper and another 12 in Gary, likes to find young guys that had solid college careers and then didn’t get drafted.
Playing with a whole pile of chips on their shoulders, intent on proving the scouts wrong for ignoring them, the RailCats always seem to “hit ‘em where they ain’t” and make that defensive play some of the more seasoned and accomplished players don’t seem to do. These guys in Gary are still giving it the “old college try,’’ mainly because most of them don’t know any other way.
Not for a minute, mind you, do I mean to insinuate there’s a lack of hustle and desire with a more mature roster like Sioux City has.
There are reasons why a baseball team can go 9-2 and then lose four out of five. And, of course, that could have been five straight if not for one of the best comebacks in Explorers’ history -- five runs in the bottom of the ninth Friday night after trailing 10-6 with two outs and nobody on base.
Baseball almost always turns into a roller-coaster ride. The peaks and valleys are nearly inevitable. Even the record-breaking 2015 X’s, who never lost more than two straight games all season, finally dropped their last three in a row, suffering a shocking league championship series loss to Laredo.
Even during their 9-2 start, Montgomery’s team was getting almost no production from the bottom third of the batting order. History indicates that could turn around for all the players involved. How much more patience they’re afforded remains to be seen.
The early success was backed impressively by the pitching staff. However, the Explorers are currently without the first two starters in the five-man rotation that started the season.
James Needy was signed Friday by the Miami Marlins and he’ll more likely be pitching in the major leagues than coming back here. Then, there’s major league veteran Alex White, a former first-round draft pick who is on the disabled list after his only start ended abruptly with discomfort in his throwing arm.
White, who underwent his second Tommy John surgery in September of 2015, was making his first competitive outing since that procedure. After consulting with his orthopedic surgeon in North Carolina, he was told he had broken up some scar tissue and simply needed some therapy to clear that up.
“He’ll throw a bullpen on Wednesday and if all goes well we’ll have a decision to make,’’ said Montgomery.
The X’s brought in rookie Mark Vasquez and an experienced Kramer Sneed to make the last two starts against Gary. Neither fared well, although Sneed, who shares a league record with his 15 wins for St. Paul in 2015, looks like he’ll be very useful.
Vasquez, a first-team NAIA All-American last year at Faulkner University in Alabama, had a rocky time Saturday, allowing six runs on five hits, three walks, three wild pitches and a partridge in pear tree. He didn’t make it out of the second inning and Montgomery says “I’ll need to look at him again to evaluate.’’
Sneed surrendered hits to the first three batters he faced and the last of these was a three-run homer. Other than that, the rest of seven innings and 119 pitches he battled through could very easily have been scoreless.
As always, the faithful fans that do show up are still disappointed more of their friends and neighbors don’t join them. After the three-game series starting tonight, the team is gone for all but three games (June 14-16 against the Texas AirHogs) over the next 21 days.
Winnipeg, the guest tonight through Thursday, matches Fargo-Moorhead for the league’s best record thus far, each at 12-5 as co-leaders in the North Division. The Goldeyes have a league-leading.303 team batting average (Sioux City is third at .273), although their 5.01 team earned run average ranks 10th in the 12-team league.