Overhauled Missions Roster Striving for Playoffs

Oldham has been a constant in SA (Photo/Missions)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The fireworks streaked through the sky, exploding to the thunderous sound of applause at Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium. The vast majority of the 4,856 fans who checked in at the gate Saturday night remained on hand, standing to cheer well after their beloved Missions walked off the field. Pop tunes and sunbursts filled the air, and all was good in the Alamo City.

Well, as good as can be when the home team shoots off fireworks following a loss.

Excuse me? Fireworks after a loss?

Saturday's production was merely a promotion scheduled in advance, sponsored by Toyota. The fireworks would have gone off regardless of the outcome between San Antonio and Frisco, which the Roughriders won 6-4. Aliens could have shown up and extracted every last brain in the joint. Wild buffalo could have come barreling down the left field berm, smashing all lawn chairs in sight. Godzilla and Mothra could have flown in from Tokyo and used the Wolff as their next battle arena. The fireworks still would have been good to go – provided someone was alive to operate them.

San Antonio may not be alive to operate in the playoffs if it puts up performances similar to the game against Frisco, a sloppy mistake-ridden showing that lacked energy. At the time, the loss dropped the Missions into a second-place tie with Corpus Christi in the Texas League West. Both teams finished the night a game behind Midland for that coveted second half crown.

"(Frisco's) an aggressive team, and we had too many missed opportunities (Saturday)," said manager Dave Brundage. "We gave up a run on a balk, and we're not going to win too many ball games making a lot of mistakes."

Just as quickly though, San Antonio has climbed into a first-place tie with Midland, which won Monday night after two straight losses to the Hooks. The Rockhounds, guaranteed a playoff spot after last half's title, have owned the Missions all season, taking 17 of 28 contests between the clubs. San Antonio won the two most recent showdowns, as the teams split a four-game series last week.

"Friday night (versus Midland) we played a great game – probably our best of the year," Brundage said.

Those final two wins on the road may be just the message San Antonio needed to send its toughest rival. If the Missions are to make a run at a third Texas League championship in four years, they will have to first face the Rockhands in a best-of-five West final.

"I'd expect a tough series between us (and Midland)," said Missions slugger Jesse Hoorelbeke. "They're going to have their best game, and we're going to have ours. It's going to be a battle. I'll tell you that much."

The fact that San Antonio can go from impressive wins on back-to-back nights, put up a dud and then come back is cause for alarm. Inconsistency has epitomized the squad's play this year, and it would be quite a feat to see it shake that habit in time for the playoffs.

"We've talked about (getting on a roll). Baseball goes in cycles," Brundage said. "Sometimes you're working on one or two cylinders and trying to get to three. We've got a young team, and mistakes are to be had. But the effort is still there."

A disappointing year from the Mariners has not made Brundage's job any easier, though. The skipper said during his previous two runs to the top of the league, there was nowhere close to the player movement he's recently endured.

"It all starts at the top; if the major league team is struggling, you're going to have movement," said Missions radio voice Roy Acuff. "Every move (the Mariners) have made has been justifiable. You have to learn to deal with it, and we're not the only club going through this. We've been spoiled the last few years. You don't deal with (player movement) when the big club is winning 112 games a year."

The Missions waved goodbye to their closer (Sean Green), best reliever (Jeff Harris) and all-world shortstop (Yuniesky Betancourt) before the first half came to a close. But just this half, the likes of Emiliano Fruto, Bobby Livingston, Rene Rivera and team batting leader T.J. Bohn have all moved to Triple-A Tacoma. Add to the equation Jon Nelson's confrontation with Mr. Water Fountain, and this is a vastly different team than the one that reeled off eight straight victories at home to start 2005.

"This team is very young to be competing for a championship this year. I give Brundage much of the credit (for the team's success)," Acuff said. "They're going to be very good next year."

The offense is still suspect and prone to droughts against left-handed pitching; the absence of Bohn's bat (and defense, for that matter) will be missed should San Antonio make the playoffs. Late additions to the pitching staff (Yorman Bazardo, Rich Dorman) have helped that area stay afloat, as the Missions are second in the league in team ERA at 3.75.

"Anything can happen in a best-of-five," Acuff said. "When they throw Dorman, Bazardo and Oldham out there one after another, that's a plus. They've definitely got a shot."

Adam Jones has helped shore up the offensive the best a 20-year old making his Double-A debut can, while Jaime Bubela shook off a terribly slow start to now lead the team in hits (145) and steals (39). Bubela's .292 average trails just Jones, who has played in 67 fewer games at San Antonio.

Another key bat is Hoorelbeke, a 27-year old designated hitter/first baseman who has put together a productive if unassuming power line in his first season under the M's tutelage. Hoorelbeke's 21 home runs are good for third in the Texas League, while his 79 RBI put him in the six spot.

"I just tried to see the ball the best I could this year," Hoorelbeke said. "This was a real learning year for me, just trying to hit the way I want to. My average isn't where I want it be, but I feel I've had a pretty decent year so far."

The Missions finish the season with five games at Corpus Christi, perhaps the most important series of the year. If the Hooks hand it to San Antonio and Midland collapses, Corpus Christi could walk away with the second half title and the second spot in the playoffs. If Midland takes the second half, as they did the first, the Missions win the second spot due to the tie-breaker - having the next best overall record after Midland. If the Missions win the second half, they earn the automatic spot into the playoffs.

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