The River Cats set a franchise record the other night when they won their 11th consecutive game, but the team also is in the middle of another streak nobody’s jumping up and down about, unless it’s in anger.
Along with the 11 wins in a row, the Cats are in a stretch of 28 consecutive games without a day off.
Their last off day was Aug. 10, and before that they played 25 straight without a break. Add it up and by the time the Pacific Coast League season ends Sept. 7, they will have played 53 games in 54 days.
River Cats manager Bob Mariano is more than a little miffed. In fact, he sounds like he’s ready to file a complaint with the labor commissioner.
“It’s kind of ridiculous for the PCL to put together a schedule like this,” Mariano said. “I think they take the players’ interests as secondary to revenue sharing, for they’re making money in the PCL.”
Compounding the problem, Mariano said, is the PCL’s “unheard of” travel situation.
Flying commercial, the River Cats have had to endure 3 a.m. wake-up calls after night games to catch 5 a.m. planes out of town. It should be a blast Sunday when they have to meet at the ballpark for a 4 a.m. bus ride to the airport for a 6 a.m. flight to Omaha, Neb. Along the way, they’ll enjoy a 45-minute stopover in Denver, for a 3:05 p.m. PST game.
“That’s when guys get hurt, when they’re tired, when you’re not getting enough rest,” Mariano said.
Things could be worse; they could be losing.
For most of the season, they were. But the 11 straight wins got them to .500 at 63-63 entering the weekend. They hadn’t known what .500 felt like since before Memorial Day.
On the journey to equilibrium, outfielder Mac Williamson contributed an estimated 450-foot highlight Tuesday night at home against Round Rock. His crusher sailed over the corner of the clubhouse beyond the left-center fence, the longest home run Mariano said he’s seen this season at Raley Field.
“I think it’s still going down I-80,” the manager said.
Williamson, 25, also hit a grand slam this week, and he singled and scored the winning run in Thursday night’s 14-inning, 4-hour, 55-minute, 4-3 win over the New Orleans Zephyrs. A little bit more of that and the PCL will have to worry about the overtime laws, too.
The River Cats’ winning streak also featured what could be the beginning of Tommy Hanson’s revival.
Hanson, 28, won 45 games for the Atlanta Braves between 2009 and 2012. An assortment of arm injuries put his career on the ropes for a couple years before the Giants signed him in May and sent him to Class A San Jose.
After making it to the River Cats in early June, he had seven straight bad outings until a week ago Friday when he struck out four and gave up only four hits in five-plus innings in Tacoma. He looked terrific Wednesday, giving up two hits and strikings out seven in seven innings and at one point retiring 15 in a row.
“Without a doubt, the best pitch in baseball is the first-pitch strike,” Mariano said, in explaining Hanson’s recent success. “You get ahead, you can set some hitters up and do some things.”
Don’t expect to see Williamson or Hanson crossing the Yolo Causeway anytime soon, since they’re not on the Giants’ 40-man roster. But there might be some movement back this way, after the Giants acquired outfielder Marlon Byrd and his 19 home runs from Cincinnati.
“They’ll send someone out,” Mariano said of the Giants. “I think it would be one of our guys, a chain-reaction type thing.”
If any of Mariano’s guys get sent back to Sacramento, it probably would be either Ryan Lollis or Juan Perez. On Sept. 1, when major-league rosters expand, those two and outfielder Jarrett Parker, catcher Hector Sanchez and relief pitcher Mike Broadway are best bets for a trip back to AT&T Park.
In the meantime, the River Cats will fight the exhaustion from no days off. Ah, the joy of no players union.
Mariano said the PCL could fix the problem by shortening the season from 144 to 142 games.
Dwight Hall, the PCL’s director of baseball operations, said there is not much chance of reducing the schedule. He said the league is locked into 144 through agreements with the major-league affiliates.
“We hear the word ‘grind’ a lot, and that is certainly apropos,” Hall said. “Are there times we wish we could see a little more breathing room? Yes. But our format overwhelmingly through the years has been approved.”
But Mariano overwhelmingly disapproves.
“They’ve got their excuses and reasoning, but they can cut down their season,” Mariano said. “Playing 53 games in 54 days, it’s just ridiculous.”