Sod Poodles open second half of season with series win over Naturals

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Leandro Cedeno, right, celebrates with teammate Jorge Barrosa (7) after hitting a home run against Northwest Arkansas on Saturday night at Hodgetown. [John Moore/ Press Pass Sports]

To close their first series of the second half of the Texas League schedule on Sunday at Hodgetown, the Amarillo Sod Poodles had a rough outing against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, five days after they opened it with an even rougher one.

In between those two games, though, the six-game series couldn’t have gone any better for the Sod Poodles, which translated into their third straight decisive series win at Hodgetown.

Despite working with a depleted roster last week which resulted in seven players at one time or another going on the injured list, the Soddies tied their longest win streak of the season with four straight victories over the Naturals. They guaranteed themselves a series win with a typically wild Hodgetownesque 13-12 victory Saturday night.

Maybe the explanation for the success is analogous to selling real estate: Location, location, location. After a 4-8 road trip over two weeks at San Antonio and Corpus Christi, the Soddies returned to Hodgetown to win their third straight series by a 4-2 margin.

“Sometimes it’s just baseball,” said Sod Poodles manager Shawn Roof, being a bit coy about the advantages his team might enjoy at Hodgetown. “Our mentality is just to be the best team we can be and good things happen. Right now we like to play at home playing in front of the Sod Poodle nation. It’s fun to play here at Hodgetown.”

There was a thin line between winning the series and going 1-5 for the Sod Poodles. A series win didn’t look real likely after Tuesday’s series opener, which the Naturals won 20-6. That game might not have been quite as grim as the final score indicates, as the Naturals scored eight runs in the top of the ninth, with the Soddies forced to use infielder Elvis Peralta on the mound to close the game.

Fortunately for the Sod Poodles, that humiliation didn’t set the tone for the rest of the series. They bounced back with a 10-4 win Wednesday night, as Brandon Pfaadt pitched six solid innings for the victory to save the bullpen after that rough opener.

“It’s huge to bounce back,” Roof said. “These kids show a lot of grit and toughness. They’re relentless. That’s kind of been the story of the team a ll year long. We’ve been behind a lot of times but we always finish.”

What was consistent in all but one game in the series is that the Sod Poodles fell behind. They were down 2-0 on Wednesday but took control of the game with 10 unanswered runs.

The Sod Poodles won each of the next three games by one run, although in different fashions. Thursday night was the most dramatic, as they had no answer against Naturals starter Angel Zerpa, who struck out nine and gave up only two hits in seven innings before leaving due to pitch count.

Zerpa’s exit was the best news of the game for the Soddies, who immediately got to reliever Yefri Del Rosario in the eighth. They loaded the bases on three singles with two outs, then in dramatic fashion, red-hot Leandro Cedeno worked the count full and hit a laser over the left field wall over Bar 352 for a grand slam to tie the game.

In the bottom of the ninth, two of the newer Soddies got things going to start the inning, as Tim Tawa reached on an error and went to third on a single by Tristin English, who was called up from Hillsboro to start the series. Andy Yerzy, a familiar face to Sod Poodles fans, drove home Tawa with a fly out to right for the decisive run in a 5-4 victory.

The Sod Poodles pulled out those two wins and Friday’s 11-10 slugfest despite missing season-long regulars Corbin Carroll, Eduardo Diaz, Nick Dalesandro and Blaze Alexander, who were all on the injured list. An example of the adaptability of the lineup is that Jorge Barrosa hit the last five games in the leadoff spot despite not having hit there all season.

“It speaks to their character,” Roof said. “These guys are just ballplayers and they don’t think about hitting in different parts of the lineup. They’re pros and they take care of their business every single day and come to get better. It’s fun to watch them play.”

Comfortable at home

Of all the Sod Poodles who were glad to be back in town last week, Cedeno was probably the happiest. He homered in the last three wins of the series and knocked around the Naturals pitching staff the whole series, going 11-for-22 with 11 RBIs and nine runs scored.

Cedeno, a native of Venezuela, is tied with Carroll for the team lead with 16 homers and leads the Soddies with 53 RBIs and hitting .298. He has a pronounced split with his road and home batting averages, though, as he’s batting .367 at Hodgetown and only .229 on the road.

“I like this park and I just try to do my job,” Cedeno said. “I just try to keep the ball in play and good things can happen. The ball flies pretty good everywhere in the stadium.”

Cedeno should know Hodgetown as well as any of the Sod Poodles, as he’s been in town for the entire season. But Tawa, English, Jose Curpa and Shane Muntz all made their Hodgetown debuts this week and were thrown into the fire to start the second half of TL play.

It hasn’t been a big deal for them to fit in, according to Cedeno.

“We’re like family and we treat everybody the same,” Cedeno said.

Frequent out of the park flyers

Cedeno wasn’t the only Sod Poodle who enjoyed a productive series last week powerwise. The Soddies homered in all but one game in the series and went deep 10 times.

Barrosa and English finished the series by homering in back-to-back games. They now are on the list of eight Sod Poodles who have homered in consecutive games this season.

English hit his first Class AA homer in Saturday’s win and in the series finale Sunday was moved to the No. 2 spot in the lineup behind Barrosa. The duo made the move pay off as they opened the bottom of the first with consecutive homers.

That sparked a four-run first inning and gave the Soddies the lead, but perhaps the emotional momentum of winning the series already couldn’t carry over, as they were scoreless over the final eight innings and the Naturals left town with a 10-4 victory.

More suspenseful than necessary

In Saturday’s win and in Friday’s 11-10 victory, the Sod Poodles bullpen made things more interesting than the fans or certainly Roof would have preferred. Both times they carried five run leads into the ninth inning, but both times the Naturals got the tying run to third base.

Friday night, the Soddies led 11-6 and left-hander Cam Booser came on and quickly retired the first two batters. Booser then gave up two singles and a walk before Robbie Glendennings’s three-run homer cut it to 11-10.

A walk to Logan Porter and single by John Rave which advanced Porter to third got Booser pulled. Ty Tice came out of the bullpen and got Sebastian Rivero to pop out to first to end it and get the save.

The next night, right-hander Blake Rogers inherited a 13-8 lead and gave up three hits and a walk to start the inning, along with an error. Maikel Garcia’s single drove in a run and cut it to 13-11, and Tyler Gentry’s sacrifice fly with the bases loaded made it 13-12.

Rogers then struck out Glendenning (who had homered in back-to-back games) to end it.

On the road for the Fourth

There was no time for the Sod Poodles to enjoy the series victory or to stew too much over Sunday’s loss. They were on the road for their first Monday game of the year on what is normally the TL’s off day. The Soddies lost to Wichita Wind Surge 5-3 on Monday night. The six-game series resumes on Wednesday.

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