Never Say Die Albuquerque Isotopes Make Historic Playoff Rally, Fall Short In the End

The never say die Albuquerque Isotopes Don’t know how to give up. That’s what manager Lorenzo Bundy preached all season long during the most memorable season in Isotope’s history. The Albuquerque Isotopes had a season for the ages, but came up just short in the end. The Topes never gave up on themselves, leading to one of the greatest comebacks in Pacific Coast League playoff history.  The 2012 season was one filled with accomplishments, and accolades. It’s easy to see why this was considered one of the greatest seasons of all time.

The Albuquerque Isotopes are the current triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Topes originally moved to Albuquerque from Calgary, in 2003. Albuquerque has strong Baseball roots, going back over 40 years. The city of Albuquerque once hosted the Dukes for many years, before they moved up to Portland and became the Portland Beavers. The Dukes were the triple-A affiliate of the Dodgers for many years as well. The team derived their name from the fictional Baseball team (Springfield Isotopes) from the t.v. show The Simpsons.

What was most amazing about their record setting year, wasn’t so much the many awards they won, but their incredible come from behind win in game four of the PCL American Conference Championship series on September 8th, over their conference rivals, the Omaha Storm Chasers. The Topes facing elimination, scored a season high nine runs in the bottom of the seventh inning on eight hits to beat Omaha 12-10. Elian Herrera had two triples in that historic frame, which set an Isotope record. Yet another record broken by the upstart Isotopes.

The Isotopes finished the 2012 season with an 80-64 record, and won the American Southern Division championship. This was just their third division title in Isotope’s history. The Topes finished a game and a half ahead of second place Oklahoma City.

The awards are many, and the Pacific Coast League records set were peppered throughout the season. Outfielder Jerry Sands, in his final season with the Topes, led the league with 107 RBI, was third with 26 home runs, and won the isotope’s MVP. Sands himself tied a PCL record during a July 29th game against the Nashville Sound by slugging not one, but two grand slam home runs. The perfect power performance was just the fifth time that’s ever happened in PCL history.

Sands wasn’t the only Isotope player breaking records during their historic season. Starting pitcher John Ely captured the PCL pitching triple crown, by leading the league in all three pitching categories. (ERA, wins, whiffs). Ely, (14-7, 3.20 ERA, 165 SO) won the PCL pitcher of the year award for his terrific year. Also recognized was skipper Lorenzo Bundy, who won PCL manager of the year award.

Counting all of the Isotope’s accomplishments this season, it was their incredible comeback win over the Storm Chasers that made their PCL playoff series historic. Manager Lorenzo Bundy called this the greatest comeback he had ever been a part of.

The Isotopes were playing the Omaha Storm Chasers in the best three out of five American Conference championship series. With the Isotopes down in the series two games to one, the Topes entered the elimination game four needing a win to stay alive and force a game five the following night.

The Topes were derived from the longtime t.v. show The Simpsons. Homer is a huge Topes fan.

A pair of lefties did battle in game four at Isotope’s park that night. Veteran journeyman Doug Davis countered Isotope’s lefty Cole St. Clair. Unfortunately for Albuquerque St. Clair was bombed. The potent Omaha lineup lit up St. Clair like a Christmas tree. Omaha scored one run in the first frame, four in the second, and three in the third. The Storm Chasers blasted three home runs in the game. Catcher Adam Moore hit two home runs, a three-run shot in the third inning, and a solo shot in the fifth. Right fielder Jason Bourgeois added a solo shot of his own in the top of the seventh. Irving Falu, one of the top hitters in the PCL added a run scoring triple, and by the bottom of the seventh inning, Omaha was up by a score of 10-3. Cole St. Clair lasted just three innings, allowing eight runs on seven hits, and not whiffing a single Storm Chaser.

With the Topes down 10-3 in the seventh frame, the season appeared all but over. What was that that saying about not going gently into that good night? Well, the Topes weren’t going into that night without kicking and screaming! As a matter of fact, the Topes had to rally just two nights before in game two just to even the series at 1-1. They were down 3-0 and rallied for four runs in the sixth inning to beat Omaha 5-3.

Doug Davis wasn’t pitching spectacular in game four, but he was getting the job done. He had allowed three runs and six hits up to that point, and it looked like the Isotope’s season was about to end. Until the Topes scored nine runs, on eight hits to take a 12-10 lead. How did it happen? The seventh inning saw two triples from Elian Herrera, two doubles, a fielding error, A three run home run from Tony Gwynn Jr., three singles, two sacrifice flys, a hit batter, and two Omaha pitching changes.

The frame began with Elian Herrera’s first of two three-baggers. Herrera’s first triple landed over the heads of diving right fielder Jason Bourgeois, and center fielder Wil Myers. Shortstop Dee Gordon reached base on a fielding error from Omaha third baseman Anthony Seratelli.  Josh Field’s RBI single brought in the first Tope’s run of the inning, making the score 10-4 Omaha. Slugger Jerry Sands launched a double down the left field line, that bounced just inside the chalk, and up into the seats. The double scored both Gordon, and Fields, and the Isotopes were now only down 10-6. Scott Van Slyke doubled off the wall in left to score Sands, and the lead was now cut to 10-7. The Topes weren’t done yet.

Image from Gywnn Jr. slugs a three-run shot to put the Topes ahead for good.

With a three run lead, Omaha made the first pitching change of the inning. Replacing Doug Davis with lefty Brandon Sisk. Trent Oeltjen greeted him right away with a line drive single, sending Van Slyke to third. With runners at the corners, Matt Angle’s sacrifice fly scored Van Slyke form third. The play was close though. Angle’s sac fly was more like a sac line drive, it was hit so hard. The ball was scorched so fast at left fielder Derrick Robinson, he had a play at the plate to try and gun down Scott Van Slyke, who was trying to tag up. Somehow though, Van Slyke two-stepped around Omaha catcher Adam Moore’s tag to score. The Topes were now down by a score of 10-8. Next up, Josh Bard’s ground ball single into left sends Oeltjen to third. Tony Gwynn Jr. followed by bombing a three-run homer over the right field fence and into the right field Burm, to give the Isotopes the 11-10 lead. The incredible rally wasn’t over yet. The Topes wanted an insurance run, and Herrera would give it to them. Herrera would smack his second three-bagger of the frame. A slicing deep fly to right, that got past the diving Bourgeois. The Storm Chasers make the final pitching change of the inning. They bring in left Tommy Hottovy. He plunks Gordon with a pitch. Josh Field’s sacrifice fly to right scores Herrera, to give the Topes a 12-10 lead. The comeback was now complete. Jerry Sand’s fly out to center mercifully ends the inning for Omaha. But with the balls flying out of Isotope’s park, would the Tope’s bullpen be able to hold the two-run lead?

As it turned out, Lorenzo Barcelo became pitching star of the night for Albuquerque. Barcelo had been called into the game in the top of the seventh inning. He surrendered the solo home run to Jason Bourgeois, but didn’t surrender anything else the rest of the way. After Irving Falu led off the top of the eighth with a single, Barcelo answered the call. Barcelo whiffs Mitch Maier, and Wil Myers, and induces an inning ending fly out from Max Ramirez. After the Topes go down in order in the bottom of the eighth, Barcelo comes out to close shop for the Isotopes, and send the series to a decisive game five. Barcelo picked up the win in relief, and the Topes had 15 hits. Barcelo is a comeback story himself. This was only his second game with the Topes, after the 35 year old veteran was plucked from the Mexican League.

In the top of the ninth, with the Topes leading 12-10, Barcelo gets Bourgeois to ground to third. Ray Navarro flies out to left. The final out is recorded on a whiff of Adam Moore. The Isotopes had done it. They had beaten the Omaha Storm Chasers 12-10. Their unbelievable nine run come from behind victory kept them alive to play another night.

You would think that after that incredible comeback the Topes would mop the floor with Omaha in game five. Unfortunately that was not to be. Sometimes Baseball just isn’t like that. Sometimes the good guys don’t come out ahead in the end. In game five the Topes got clobbered, and this time there was no historic comeback rally. The Topes lost game five 16-7. Starter Will Savage got torched, and Omaha relief pitcher Donnie Joseph whiffed seven Topes to get the win. The Storm Chaser’s lineup destroyed Isotope’s pitching in game five. Omaha had home runs from Myers, and Mitch Maier, and two triples from Jason Bourgeois. Despite Josh Fields driving in three runs and hitting a home run, the Topes fell well short, losing the series 3-2.

Even though the Albuquerque Isotopes didn’t make it to the PCL Championship series this year, it doesn’t underscore their amazing accomplishments this season. Faced with the odds against them, the Isotopes never gave up on their season or themselves. That historic playoff rally personifies the Isotope’s never say die team spirit. The Topes will be looking forward to building on their 2012 success, hoping it leads them to a solid foundation for the future.

This tells us all that a Baseball game is really never over until it’s over. For the Isotopes, that has been their motto all year long. So the next time you watch an Isotope’s game, never turn it off before the end, or leave early. That’s because no lead is safe, and the Isotopes never give up until the last out is made.

Tags: Adam Moore Albuquerque Isotopes Anthony Seratelli Brandon Sisk Cole St. Clair Dee Gordon Derrick Robinson Doug Davis Elian Herrera Irving Falu Jason Bourgeois Jerry Sands John Ely Josh Bard Josh Fields Lorenzo Barcelo Lorenzo Bundy Matt Angle Max Ramirez Mitch Maier Scott Van Slyke Tony Gwynn Jr. Trent Oeltjen Wil Myers

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