ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Home cooking provided no immediate remedy for the struggling Albuquerque Isotopes on Thursday night.
Coming off a rough 2-6 trip during which they scored a total of 13 runs, the ‘Topes continued to sputter in a 6-2, homestand-opening loss to Tacoma.
The scenario was all-too-familiar for Isotopes manager Lorenzo Bundy, whose team managed just five hits and struck out 13 times.
“This is pretty much what the road trip was like,” Bundy said. “We can’t get leadoff guys on base and if we do, we’re really struggling to get big hits. It’s pretty frustrating, that’s for sure.”
The Isotopes hoped returning to the Duke City would help them end a slump that’s come at a terrible time. While the ‘Topes have struggled, Oklahoma City reeled off 12 straight wins heading into Thursday night.
Albuquerque left for its recent road swing with a one-game lead in the Pacific Coast League’s American Southern Division – and came home trailing the RedHawks by four games.
“We haven’t earned many breaks,” Bundy said, “and we sure haven’t gotten many.”
Thursday was no exception. The game’s decisive hit, a tie-breaking grand slam by Tacoma’s Stefen Romero in the seventh inning, was a slicing fly ball down the right-field line that looked for all the world like it would go foul. Instead it hit the foul pole.
It was part of a game that was strange from the beginning.
Tacoma made a last-minute lineup change and sent Abraham Almonte to the plate to start things. Almonte, who was not in the original lineup, blasted Matt Palmer’s second pitch for a home run.
The ‘Topes got the tying run when Tony Gwynn Jr. walked, stole second and third, and came home on a wild pitch in the dirt that was swung through by Chili Buss.
Albuquerque’s offense showed a little bite in the second when Alex Castellanos homered to stake Palmer to a 2-1 lead. But Palmer’s fourth walk and his second hit batter of the game set up Romero’s tying RBI single in the fifth.
Palmer’s command was erratic, but he allowed just two runs in six innings.
Castellanos, who had two of the Isotopes’ five hits, had a chance to put his team back in front in the bottom of the sixth with runners on first and third with no outs. He hit a ground ball to third, Buss was thrown out at home, and the next two batters struck out.
“It’s kind of a situation where everyone’s in a funk at the same time,” Bundy said. “I don’t where this came from, but we’ll have to hope the bats wake up (today).”
BEARD ALERT: Charismatic relief pitcher Brian Wilson, known for his bushy black beard and mohawk haircut, was expected to join the Isotopes at some point on Thursday but had not arrived by game’s end. Bundy expects Wilson to be in uniform today but was uncertain when he would pitch.
Wilson, the former San Francisco Giants closer, is coming off arm surgery and working his way toward the big leagues. He pitched a scoreless inning for Class A Rancho Cucamonga on Monday.
SOUVENIRS ANYONE? Tacoma’s Carlos Triunfel got fans buzzing in the third inning, launching his bat into the 11th row on a swing-and-miss. One batter later, ‘Topes pitcher Palmer tossed a ball over the screen into the second level of suites when the Rainiers’ Abraham Almonte was granted time after Palmer started his windup.
SERIOUSLY SAWED OFF: Palmer twice broke the bats of Tacoma’s Carlos Peguero, and both times the broken lumber traveled farther than the ball.
A bat shard nearly hit Palmer before bouncing to the edge of the outfield grass on a double-play grounder in the first inning. The hard-swinging Peguero later launched his broken half-bat into shallow right field on a ground-out.