It was time to say goodbye Thursday night.
At least for the time being.
The Albuquerque Isotopes played their final home game of the regular season, ripping Iowa 13-3.
The victory, coupled with Nashville’s doubleheader sweep of Oklahoma City, gave Albuquerque new life in the Pacific Coast League American South Division chase. The Isotopes moved within two games of the first-place RedHawks.
Both have four games remaining. If they finish in a tie, Albuquerque goes to the playoffs because of a better head-to-head record this season.
Still, even if the ‘Topes fall short of the playoffs, it’s been another standout season in the stands.
“Considering the summer we had, with all the rain, the attendance has been incredible,” said Isotopes general manager John Traub.
“I always get a little sappy at the end of the year, because you get a chance to reflect. It really was a special year. This group of guys in the clubhouse is unparalleled. We had zero problems, and they did so many things in the community.”
And on the field.
Albuquerque used a ferocious wind to its advantage, getting a pair of two-run homers in the fifth — by major league All-Star Rafael Furcal and Trent Oeltjen — that gusts carried over the left-field fence. Furcal was 3-for-4 with four RBIs in his two games in town while going through rehab. He had a double, triple and homer.
Starter Francisco Felix, who was added to the roster from the Mexican League last week, won his second game in six days and had one of his team’s 19 hits.
If it was the home finale, it was a nice way to bow out.
“The season’s gone by so quickly it’s hard to believe,” Traub said. “It makes it hard to think about this being the last home game. Then again, we’re still hoping it’s not.”
For the eighth time in the franchise’s eight-year history, the Isotopes averaged more than 8,000 paid fans per outing. Thursday’s paid crowd of 13,002 boosted the season total to 571,100, an average of 8,159 for the 70 openings.
For a city that was without minor league baseball for two years after losing the Albuquerque Dukes/Dodgers following the 2000 season, the numbers have been impressive since the Isotopes arrived in 2003.
“We are so humbled by the support of the fans,” Traub said. “Not only the baseball fans, but the corporate support. It’s amazing here. They love this stadium, they love this franchise and it’s sort of a mutual love affair.”
Isotopes Park is a result of the renovation of the former Albuquerque Sports Stadium, the latter which opened in 1969.
And despite being one of the finest minor league parks in the country, Traub said there’s more in store.
“Come April of 2011, when the fans come in, we want them to go ‘wow,'” Traub said. “One thing that (president) Ken Young won’t allow is sitting on our laurels.”
NOTE: Both benches cleared in the ninth after Josh Lindblom plunked Matt Camp with a pitch. No punches were thrown, but comically both bullpens also emptied — running side-by-side out of the same gate in left field all the way to the infield.
Tempers continued to flare, with the game ending on a questionable called third strike on Iowa’s Sam Fuld. The center fielder went into a rage and was restrained by teammate Bobby Scales. Fuld then tossed his helmet at home plate umpire Matt Schaufert, but didn’t hit him.