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Isotopes, El Paso split doubleheader

Few teams have looked forward to a baseball All-Star break more than the 2014 Albuquerque Isotopes.

The Triple-A break starts Sunday if the ‘Topes can only get there. Manager Damon Berryhill’s team continued a dizzying stretch of games Thursday, splitting two games with El Paso at Isotopes Park.

Albuquerque won the first game 7-6, completing a nine-inning contest that was suspended in the first inning Wednesday night because of rain. El Paso held on to win the second game 8-7 in a seven-inning contest.

Suspended game or not, it amounted to the second doubleheader of an eight-game homestand for the Isotopes. Remarkably, they’ll play another twin bill today in Las Vegas, Nev.

“I’ve never done it before,” Berryhill said of the back-to-back doubleheaders. “It was an unfortunate situation where it’s the last time we play (El Paso). … We have to come out strong and try to win all three games in Las Vegas.”

Assuming they get both games in today, the ‘Topes will have played five doubleheaders in a 15-day stretch. By Saturday night they’ll also have played 21 games in 18 days, but who’s counting?

“It’s hard but it’s our job,” said outfielder Brian Cavazos-Galvez. “We’ve been grinding but I feel like the energy’s up. We’re scoring runs and the pitchers have been coming in with energy. We just haven’t been able to put a real streak together.”

Oddly enough, Berryhill actually wanted Thursday’s doubleheader – at least more than the alternative. Once Wednesday night’s rain delay was sufficiently long that starting pitcher Jeff Bennett could not return to the mound, suspending play became the lesser of two evils.

The Isotopes' Joc Pederson runs to first on his double in the third inning of Game 1 against El Paso on Thursday. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

The Isotopes’ Joc Pederson runs to first on his double in the third inning of Game 1 against El Paso on Thursday. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Instead of piecing together the final eight innings with an already-thin bullpen Wednesday, the ‘Topes were able to use regularly scheduled starter Zach Lee and spot starter Steve Smith to eat innings Thursday. Smith had pitched six innings Saturday.

“Zach and Smitty did their jobs and kept us in the games,” Berryhill said. “Smitty was on four days rest but he battled. We just played poor defense behind him and it ended up costing us.”

The ‘Topes came agonizingly close to pulling out two comeback wins Thursday. Cavazos-Galvez’s two-run double capped a three-run ninth inning that had players celebrating on the field after Game 1.

In Game 2, Casio Grider led off the seventh with a double. But Delvis Morales failed to make contact on a bunt attempt and El Paso catcher Rocky Gale picked Grider off second base.

“Just overaggressive,” Berryhill said. “We had a lot of opportunities in Game 2. Kind of a bitter loss.”

If there’s a bright side to all the double duty it will come Sunday. Today’s doubleheader was scheduled specifically to allow both teams an extra day off during the All-Star break.

EVERY ONE’S A LOBO: Three former University of New Mexico baseball players were heavily involved in Thursday’s games. In Game 1, Cavazos-Galvez’s game-winning, two-run double actually stole a win from former Lobo teammate Bobby LaFromboise. The left-hander pitched two scoreless innings of relief for El Paso and was in line for a victory prior to Cavazos-Galvez’s walk-off hit.

In Game 2, Isotopes right-hander Smith struggled on the mound (six earned runs in 32/3 innings) but he did deliver an RBI single.