When the dust finally settled Monday afternoon in New Orleans, the Albuquerque Isotopes had just wrapped up a “pretty darned good season,” in the eyes of manager Lorenzo Bundy.
They finished 76-68, the fourth-best record in their 11-year history. They had the Pacific Coast League leaders in RBI and stolen bases — Chili Buss with 100 and Dee Gordon with 49 — and their team ERA of 4.05 was the fourth best in the circuit.
And yet, there would be no further games for the Isotopes as they finished in second place, six games behind Oklahoma City.
That deficit can be traced back to one bad stretch that, whether unfair or not, in many ways defined a season that was otherwise “80- to 85-percent” successful, Bundy said.
“I hate to think that one road trip pretty much turned the whole season around,” Bundy said. “Well, two road trips. The Sacramento (and Fresno) road trip and then the series in Oklahoma City. You look around, you play 144 games so you take that road trip, that’s eight, and you take those five games in Oklahoma City and that’s 13 games. With those 13 games we pretty much … that was the turning point in our season, realistically.”
Albuquerque lost six of eight at Sacramento and Fresno from July 30 through Aug. 6. The Isotopes then came home and dropped five of eight to Tacoma and Salt Lake before they went to visit the first-place RedHawks and ended up losing all five games there. The final elimination came with an 8-5 loss to Round Rock on Aug. 27.
“Realistically that eight-day trip, that Sacramento trip, we didn’t play bad baseball,” Bundy said. “We didn’t win. We didn’t hit. We pitched well, we played good defense but we just didn’t hit enough. Oklahoma City was pretty much the same thing other than the last game of the series when Javy (Guerra) blew the save.
“We’ve got to give credit to Oklahoma City. They ran off 12 in a row while we scuffled for a bit. Can you say that we lost it? I don’t know, maybe, maybe not.”
Despite the finish, the season overall was a successful one for Albuquerque. Throughout all the ups and downs, the Isotopes kept their heads up, something that young players like Buss had never really experienced before.
“One great thing, regardless of winning or losing, is the great team camaraderie, a bunch of great guys that are a ton of fun to play with,” Buss said. “Obviously you’d like to make the playoffs and win a few more games but even when we were having tough times it was a great team to be around. I can’t imagine a more fun group of guys to be with. No one really got down on themselves when things were going poorly. Everyone stayed really positive.
“I know in Double-A it would have been a much different environment with you lose a few games and you have these really long travel days, it really wears on you. But you see these older guys keeping it loose, keeping it relaxed, coming to the ballfield being professional every day. You kind of take after that. I think that was key for our team to really stay with it all year.”
Bundy credited his team’s veteran leaders such as outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., pitchers Peter Moylan and Sean White, and the infield duo of Brian Barden and Rusty Ryal for keeping the chemistry intact. Pitching coach Glenn Dishman, hitting coach Franklin Stubbs, strength coach Travis Smith and trainer Yosuke “Possum” Nakajima were also a big part of making sure things ran smoothly, Bundy added.
“As much time as we spend together, that clubhouse is your domain,” Bundy said. “Day in and day out whether you’re at home or the road here we go again. It’s really a lot more fun when you can walk through that clubhouse and you know there’s no animosity, there’s no clubhouse lawyers going on. It’s a good feeling. I credit my staff, Dish and Stubby, Travis and Possum, we’re all a part of this. It’s not just one guy or two guys.”