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When you think about it, Graham Godfrey’s path was not on the fast track.
In fact, for a guy that started the season with Double-A Midland, where he is today is a huge leap in the right direction.
As Godfrey told me earlier this year, it was just one small mechanical thing he changed and voila, a steady, dominating pitcher was born.
With Godfrey pitching nearly lights out, the Sacramento River Cats stayed on the winning side of things with a 7-3 victory over the Albuquerque Isotopes at Raley Field on Tuesday evening in front of 10,016 happy fans.
The win gives him a league tying 12 and he’s only two away from tying the Sacramento franchise record of 14.
What would that accomplishment mean to the guy that could be leading the PCL in almost every pitching category if he'd been with the team all season?
“Personally, it will mean a lot, but right now I’m really focused on trying to get the team into the playoffs. We’ve got a good grasp of first place right now and hopefully we can lock it down and keep everything rolling into the playoffs. If I can pick up a win or two, that’s great, but what’s on everybody’s mind right now is getting to the playoffs and showing what this team is all about.”
After Godfrey got out of a small jam in the top of the first, trouble arose for Isotope moundsman Joe Newby right away.
Newby, owner of a 5.36 ERA, was a little out of control and getting hit hard in more ways than one. He led off the game with a walk to Jermaine Mitchell and a clean single by Adrian Cardenas.
During Kevin Kouzmanoff’s at-bat, Newby threw a wild pitch that just got by catcher Tim Federowicz. Mitchell sprinted towards the plate trying to score the first run of the game when Newby received the ball back from his catcher and had to awkwardly attempt a tag on the barreling-in Mitchell. Mitchell appeared to cleat Newby’s right foot on the play.
After a brief visit with the trainer, Newby elected to continue pitching in the contest.
He didn’t last long.
Kouzmanoff ended up taking a base on balls and, after a ground out by Josh Donaldson, Chris Carter torched a 2-1 pitch into left field that scored Kouz and gave the Cats a 2-0 lead.
Apparently, the right foot of Newby was hurting enough that he left the field of play with the trainer after the Carter at-bat. Newby’s line was one for the books - one-third of an inning pitched, two hits, four earned runs, two walks and two wild pitches! Quite an outing!
Adam Rosales would plate another run before the inning ended when he singled in Carter. The frame would end there as Andy LaRoche was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on the play.
As Godfrey was bearing down - three straight fly outs to center in the second, the opposite could be said of Francisco Felix, the emergency pitching replacement for the injured Newby.
Cardenas, who went 4-for-5 and an RBI, said the Cats know they have a great chance to win when Godfrey’s on the mound.
“You just know he’s gonna go out there and give it his best, regardless of what happens,” said the 23-year old. “Usually, it’s a performance like tonight where, if it wasn’t for that sixth inning, it would be another six inning shutout. But that’s Graham, he’s been that way all year and he deserves to be in the big leagues right now.”
Besides the run in the first, Felix would give up another in the second on Donaldson’s second RBI in as many innings when he plated Mitchell on a fielder’s choice.
It was all quiet for the next couple of innings until a crack in Godfrey’s armor was starting to develop.
After getting taken deep on three fly ball outs in the fifth, he gave up three straight hits to lead off the sixth inning. After a lead-off single by Joe Becker, Brad Coon tripled down the right field line to score Becker for the first Albuquerque run of the game. The next hitter, Ivan De Jesus Jr., singled and scored Coon from third.
That was enough for a visit to the mound by Cats pitching coach Scott Emerson in an effort to settle down his starter.
The pep talk did some good as Godfrey settled in and struck out the two of the next three hitters to set down the Isotopes with minimal damage inflicted.
In the frame, a great play by Rosales at short helped get Godfrey out of the jam when he made a diving stop on Russ Mitchell’s shot up the middle. While laying on the ground, Rosales tried flipping the ball to LaRoche, but the it semi-stuck in his glove and barely trickled to LaRoche in time to get the runner at second base. The play probably saved another run from scoring in the inning.
In the eighth, the Cats etched some more digits on the Raley Field scoreboard when Cardenas singled in Anthony Recker, who had walked to lead off the inning. Kouzmanoff was up next and hit a shot to the shortstop who looked like he would turn two easily. De Jesus, Jr. flipped the ball to Becker at second but Becker double-pumped the throw, which caused him to be late with the ball and allowed Kouz to get an RBI and be safe at first on the play.
Jordan Norberto pitched a good final two innings of relief having four strikeouts and only allowing a two-out solo home run in the ninth by Jamie Hoffman.
With two strong pitching performances turning into two wins in a row, Darren Bush was pleased the guys are getting back on track and playing proper baseball at the proper time.
“We played better games in that Round Rock series and we played good again tonight,” said the soft-spoken manager of the now 72-52 River Cats.
Taking things in the proverbial day-by-day fashion works for Bush and it’s that attitude that has spread to the entire team and staff over the course of his first year in Sacramento.
“We need to make sure we stay focused on the game that day and not get caught up in anything else,” continued Bush. “We’re here to play a baseball game tomorrow at twelve o’clock, not two weeks from now. We’re here to play tomorrow and we need to focus on playing that game on that day. Everything else will take care of itself. You ask about fine tuning? Just play that game and you’ll play fundamentally sound.”
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