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'Topes Still Control Division

Isotopes Set Sights On PCL Crown

It’s Minor League Baseball.

The players are here to get to the majors. The fans are here to enjoy the ballpark experience.

That’s about it, right?

Wrong.

Just ask the Albuquerque Isotopes.

“The biggest thing about development, that a lot of guys don’t get, is the will to win,” says Isotopes catcher Tim Federowicz after Albuquerque’s 6-3 loss to Las Vegas on Friday night at Isotopes Park. “We absolutely want to win this.

“This level is perfect for developing that attitude. That’s how the game is played (in the majors), and the best way to learn to compete every day is the will to win.”

Las Vegas got four runs in the top of the third Friday, getting a massive three-run homer over the center-field fence by Mike McDade in the inning in front of a crowd of 8,165. That saddled Albuquerque pitcher Derrick Loop (9-3) with the loss, and prevented him from becoming the staff’s third double-digit winner this season.

But despite the loss, the Isotopes (65-49) are still the team to beat in the PCL American Southern Division. They entered Friday night with a 1 1/2 game lead over Oklahoma City, which had a late game at Tacoma. New Orleans, which has lost two straight, is four back.

The American Southern is by far the most competitive of the four divisions in the PCL. Making things more interesting is the Isotopes’ schedule the rest of the way. They still face fellow division leaders, Reno and Omaha, as well as the two teams chasing them — Oklahoma City and New Orleans.

Albuquerque plays four games at Oklahoma City starting Aug. 27 then finishes the season with four home games against American Northern-leading Omaha (68-46).

“We’ve got a heckuva schedule left,” says Isotopes manager Lorenzo Bundy. “This is what it’s all about.”

Bundy says he doesn’t have to spend a lot of time motivating his bunch, which is excited about the chase. But he does toss a little something at them from time to time.

“I hope it means something to them,” he says. “But every now and then I break out my Tucson Sidewinders’ 2006 championship ring, to let them know what you get. ‘This is what you have a chance of getting.’ Those are special teams.”

Bundy was the hitting instructor for the Sidewinders — the top farm club of the Arizona Diamondbacks — from 2004-06. He helped the team to the best record in Triple-A baseball in 2006.

“There were guys who got to the big leagues that year (who played in Tucson), and they got excited because they get a ring from us. It’s something I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of. It’s a really special moment to win a championship — and the opportunities are few and far between.”

The Isotopes, in their 10th year, definitely have an opportunity this year. They have won two division titles (2003, 2009), but have never been past the first round of the playoffs.

The goal is to end that this go-round.

John Ely, Albuquerque’s winningest pitcher so far this season, has a chance at a couple of franchise records. He beat Las Vegas on Thursday night to run his record to 11-7 overall and 7-2 at home. He’s two off the Isotopes’ record for wins in a season and one shy of the most home wins.

But he says that matters little.

“I didn’t even know that,” Ely said, when informed about being close to the marks. “As long as the ‘Topes are winning, I’m not worried about it. I’m just more worried about the ‘Topes winning games.”

He said Albuquerque’s battle with Oklahoma City has been a good one this season, and he welcomes New Orleans to the chase.

“It makes if more fun. Look at Omaha (which had a whopping 17-game lead going into Friday). They look like they’re going to clinch tomorrow. How much fun is that? Then again, it probably is for them.

“But I’m not worried about competition. I’m happy with the position we’re in. We’re sitting in first, and they’re chasing us. Let’s ride this one out to the end and go to the playoffs.”

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