Squirrels claw for chance at playoffs
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Aug 23, 2013, 15:43
RICHMOND — There's something special taking place at The Diamond, the home of the Flying Squirrels.
A team that looked to be as dead as a zombie on The Walking Dead after a combined 23-34 record over June and July has suddenly become revitalized in August. Richmond has gone 11-5 over their last 16 games, gaining momentum as the season heads to a close and the playoff race tightens.
"It's a total team effort right now," manager Dave Machemer said after his team captured a 9-7 victory over the Altoona Curve on Thursday. "The guys are excited about a playoff hunt and tonight we swung the bats great."
Right, because as the game came to an end at 10:39 p.m., the Flying Squirrels found themselves just 2.5 games behind Harrisburg for the division-lead and just 2.0 games back of Erie for the Wild Card spot.
But rewind to just under three-and-a-half hours earlier, it seemed Richmond was on its way to a debilitating defeat after suffering a critical blow earlier in the week with a doubleheader sweep.
Jack Snodgrass, activated from the disabled list earlier in the day, hit his spots yet Altoona's hitter found the holes, tallying two early runs with successive sacrifice-flies. The stadium grew tense knowing the magnitude of Richmond falling behind early, holding just a 21-39 mark when opponents score first.
But Snodgrass would not let the early run of misfortune affect the way he attacked the Curve.
"The first inning was frustrating because I made decent pitches and they ended up with two runs, and with us being in a playoff race, every run counts at this point," Snodgrass said after picking up his 11th win of the season. "But it was good to settle in. It's a nice little test to get back up again."
And getting back up is exactly what this Richmond squad has done.
Over the course of the past two weeks, the Flying Squirrels have mounted comeback victory after comeback victory, including a walk-off home run over division-leading Harrisburg on Wednesday.
So it should be no surprise when faced with a 3-0 deficit entering the bottom of the fourth inning, Richmond promptly returned fire with five runs to take a lead they would never relinquish, albeit with some tense moments in the ninth inning.
And perhaps no one has epitomized what Richmond has done more than light-hitting shortstop Skyler Stromsmoe who now appears to be wielding a tennis racket at the plate. Even though his season average at .248 is not the mark of a great hitter, certain players have an ability to raise their game and he's one of them.
Over the last 11 games, of which Richmond has won seven, Stromsmoe is hitting .478 while playing with a certain flashiness in the field.
"He's a gamer," Machemer said of his shortstop. "He's a guy that every manager loves to have on his ballclub. He gives you everything he's got."
But Machemer can also eye the schedule and like what his team has in front of them — seven of the next 11 games are at home.
Why's that significant?
Over the franchise's first four years of existence, the Flying Squirrels have compiled a 159-117 record at home — trailing only the Trenton Thunder for best home-record during that span.
"We have the best fans in the league," Snodgrass said. "Getting to play in front of those guys, it's awesome. I definitely think that gives us an upper-hand."
Whether that upper-hand helps Richmond to a playoff berth remains to be seen, but the opportunity in front of them is enough to bring the excitement and looseness back to a once tense clubhouse.