ALLENTOWN – Lehigh Valley returned from a successful road trip last night when they faced the Norfolk Tides. High flying is the only way to describe them.
For a team that had not been over .500 till this season, the team has taken off and played a lot of solid baseball. After last night's 8-2 win, their record now stands at a franchise best 20-15.
If there is one person that not only sees, but feels the difference in the clubhouse and in the ballpark on game night it has to be centerfielder Rich Thompson.
An IronPig since year-one, Thompson has seen the worst and now the best that the IronPigs have to offer.
"I'm the only one who notices the difference when I look around," Thompson said. "Those guys who haven't played for losing teams this isn't that different. For me I am more upbeat about the game."
Off to a rough start, batting just .250 and with his playing time diminished, Thompson finds it easy to come to the ballpark.
"When you are playing well, winning games, and have a chance to be at the top of the standings it is always nice. It's one of the reasons why you [play]."
Thompson has seen his share of minor league ballparks with just one stint in 'The Bigs' with Kansas City in 2004.
In 12 minor league seasons he is batting .280 and his next stolen base will put him at 400 for his career in which he has successfully stolen base 83 percent of his tries.
"It means a lot to me because I take pride in the [Phillies] organization and it's nice to let these fans have a good product to watch. It feels good to reward them with a team that can win."
On the recent eight game road trip to Ohio, Lehigh Valley won two of four against the Columbus Clippers, who lead the West division with a league-best 25-9 record. They followed that up by winning the first three games at Toledo. That series was highlighted by the ejection of manager Ryne Sandberg and starting pitcher Eddie Bonine.
While winning, the wins haven't come easy. Before leaving on the eight game road trip, Lehigh Valley had fallen behind in 17 of their 26 games. The IronPigs came back in nine of those for the win including four that came in the final two innings.
"It's not like these series depends on us getting out to a good start because we have series where we lose a couple and then win a couple and fall behind and come back," Thompson said. "It is certainly never a sense of 'we're done'."
In fact, the veteran club that is generally used to winning relies on a steady pace to achieve success.
"We are patient and we don't panic," Sandberg said before leaving on the last road trip. "That is evident in many of our comebacks this year."
Just like their parent club, the strength has been the pitching. Despite losing their best starter Vance Worley and relievers Scott Mathieson and Michael Stutes to Phillie recalls, the staff has kept games close.
Reliever Brian Gordon has not given up an earned run in 17 innings of work. Jason Grilli has an ultra low 1.02 ERA.
"The pitchers have done it all year,"said Sandberg. "They've kept us in a lot of games and gave the offense the opportunity for us to come back,"
Domonic Brown sat out Friday for the second game in a row as a precaution to rest his ailing wrist.
Brown started the season on the DL for a broken bone in his hand and has hit .353 in his nine games with the IronPigs. He was ready to play if he was needed and could be in the starting lineup on Saturday.
Going Hog Wild!
- By hitting in his first nine games since returning to Lehigh Valley, Brown has now hit in 16 straight International League games.
- Last night, LV ripped off six straight hits in the fifth inning to tie a franchise record.
- Last season, Lehigh Valley led the league in playing in 51 one-run games. This season, they have played in a league low four with the IronPigs winning three.
- Although the one run games are few, they continue to play close ones as 71 percent of LV's 34 games were in games decided by three runs or less.