Against All Odds, RailRiders Still Makes Run
MOOSIC — As his teammates cleaned out their lockers and packed bags and boxes to bring home, outfielder Mark Payton summed up the RailRiders’ season pretty well.
“It’s kind of an incredible thing we kind of pulled off there,” Payton said. “Obviously playing up until this game. With all the transactions this team had, especially right around the trade deadline, losing a lot of key parts to this team and still finding ways to win in the second half.”
The RailRiders made 280 transactions this season. Two more, pitchers Justus Sheffield and Domingo Germán being promoted to New York, won’t be official until sometime this week.
Players move up and down all the time in Triple-A. That’s part of everyday life. What’s different about this year was trades and releases involving RailRiders players, sending them out of the organization entirely.
Tyler Austin, Abiatal Avelino, Cody Carroll, Brandon Drury, Caleb Frare, Gio Gallegos, Erik Kratz, Billy McKinney, Josh Rogers and Adam Warren were all traded away, many in a span of a few days before the deadline at the end of July. Cody Asche, Daniel Camarena, Vince Conde, Cesar Diaz, David Hale, Adam Lind, Oliver Perez and Jace Peterson were either released or left as free agents after being designated for assignment.
“Being here the last two years and then obviously this season, you have a lot of movement throughout the system all the time,” Payton said. “I’ve personally never been a part of a team that had six or seven guys get traded within, whatever, 48 hours. When that’s all going on, you just don’t know what to think and you don’t know who’s next, you don’t know if there’s going to be another one. We kind of pulled together as a team.”
Injuries didn’t help either. They lost Clint Frazier, one of their top hitters, to post concussion symptoms. Thairo Estrada was supposed to be a key part of the infield, but he could never overcome being shot in the hip when he was the victim of a robbery in the offseason. Estrada will be able to play in the Arizona Fall League, however. Relievers Anyelo Gomez (shoulder), J.P. Feyereisen (arm) and Brody Koerner (broken arm) and infielder Billy Fleming (shoulder) all needed surgery and finished the season on the disabled list.
The RailRiders went into the all-star break 47-41 on July 8, and wrapped up the month 56-50. They went 6-6 to begin August, however, and still managed to hold on to the International League’s wild card spot.
They took care of league-best Lehigh Valley in four games in the Governors’ Cup semifinals, then took defending champion Durham to five games in the final.
“I’m proud of every one of those guys here,” RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell said. “Went through a lot of changes and just kept on rolling, pretty much, because of these guys and their character and the way they worked hard and went about their business. Made sure they all knew that as they go on their way. Just didn’t end the way we wanted to, but we were really close. We came a long way from where we were at the trading deadline. To do this is a credit to these guys.”
One move that did benefit the RailRiders was acquiring infielder Gio Urshela from Toronto on Aug. 4. Urshela walked the PNC Field concourse from the Buffalo clubhouse to join his new teammates, then became one of SWB’s most consistent hitters down the stretch and in the postseason. He batted .382 in the playoffs, with four doubles, one home run and five walks.
Urshela went 2 for 3 with a double in Game 5 against Durham.
“Crazy. From when he got here to now, he’s improved tremendously,” first baseman Mike Ford said of Urshela. “He’s an unbelievable fielder, and that’s always been his thing. And hitting wise, he’s just been on fire for a month and a half now. It was a pleasure to watch.”
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