The Albuquerque Isotopes are hitting home runs at a franchise-record pace.
Wednesday, they hit four more of them, putting the local Triple-A franchise on pace for a 235 for the season, easily outpacing the 2008 record of 197.
And that’s about it for the good news.
Because for as loud as the home announced crowd of 8,280 at Isotopes Park cheered for each of Wednesday’s round-trippers – two from Pat Valaika, another from Sam Hilliard and one from Roberto Ramos – the sound of silence in the team’s postgame locker room seemed even more deafening.
The Isotopes allowed three runs in the ninth inning – two were unearned off a pair of infield errors – to lose to the Reno Aces 7-6, the team’s fifth consecutive loss and ninth in the past 10 games.
“For as many home runs that our team is hitting, we are allowing the same,” said a somber Glenallen Hill, the manager of the Isotopes.
When asked to elaborate on that simple statement, Hill made it clear he meant exactly what he said as his response to any talk about the record pace his team might be on for home runs.
“It’s just that simple,” Hill said. “Say that.”
The Isotopes’ 91 home runs this season are more than the 88 opponents are hitting, but the team’s record has dropped to 24-30.
The approach moving forward?
“You analyze today,” Hill said. “You find something positive and you show up tomorrow to be better than you were yesterday.”
While the organization maintains the Triple-A level isn’t about the wins and losses as much as it is about player development, it’s hard to deny that individual progression is hard to enjoy when the team is losing like the Isotopes are.
Valaika, for instance, has hit 15 home runs in just 29 games this season with the Isotopes, including the two from Wednesday night’s game – solo shots in the third and seventh innings.
“Honestly, no,” Valaika said when asked if there is any consolation to the fact that from an individual player development standpoint, it’s hard to argue there’s a hotter hitter around the game at this level than him right now.
“It doesn’t really matter. We lost. We’ve been losing. Losing’s not fun. Whatever we’ve got to do to turn it around, we’ve got to do.”
After being sent down from the Colorado Rockies, Valaika is hitting .352 in his 29 games with Albuquerque with the 15 home runs and 28 RBIs.
Hill says Valaika’s individual strides show that the game is about trying to focus on the things you can control every day.
“He’s getting ready to hit early (in his at bat),” Hill said. “He’s learning how to anticipate that pitch with a calmness, which allows him to see the pitch and get his swing off without trying to do too much with it. He’s been really working to try and calm his mind down.”
EJECTION: Reno manager Chris Cron was ejected in the top of the ninth inning after home plate umpire Clint Vondrak initially awarded Diego Leyba first base for being hit, only to reverse that decision after Hill asked for a conference among the other umpires.
They determined Leyba wasn’t hit (Leyba certainly didn’t react like he was hit). Cron argued and was tossed with one out in the ninth and the ‘Topes leading 6-4.
The wheels for the Isotopes came off after that as Reno scored three runs for the win.