When they ran onto the field Sunday on an ideal day for baseball, the time was 12:08 p.m., the temperature was 67 degrees, the wind was blowing from left field to right at 8 mph and the Las Vegas 51s were the best team in minor league baseball, by percentage.
At 18-5, they were better than the Indianapolis Indians (15-7) of the International League, the Portland Sea Dogs (13-6) of the Eastern League, the Montgomery Biscuits (16-7) of the Southern League, the Frisco RoughRiders (15-7) of the Texas League.
As well as the Visalia Rawhide (17-6) of the California League, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (14-8) of the Carolina League, the Dunedin Blue Jays (17-5) of the Florida State League, the Kane County Cougars (16-6) of the Midwest League, the Hagerstown Suns (17-5) of the South Atlantic League.
They were even better than Acereros del Norte and Defines del Ciudad del Carmen, the top two teams in the Mexican League.
So things had been going well for the 51s. Wally Backman had been making the right moves and punching the right buttons, as the ex-ballplayers-turned-commentators say on TV. It also can be assumed Backman had been pulling managerial strings.
The 51s had won six a row. A nice afternoon crowd of 6,003 was on hand.
There’s no empirical evidence to suggest the team for whom things have been going well, whose manager has been making the right moves and punching the right buttons, gets most of the breaks.
It just happened that way in the first inning at Cashman Field Sunday.
After Las Vegas starter Logan Verrett retired the Tacoma Rainiers on seven pitches, the 51s came to bat against Hisashi Iwakuma, who was 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA for the Seattle Mariners last year.
This Iwakuma is a tough customer, or at least he was until he tweaked a tendon in the middle finger on his pitching hand, which landed him in Las Vegas on a rehab assignment. Multiple Japanese reporters were here to record Iwakuma’s every move.
Cesar Puello was the first man he faced. Iwakuma sawed off his bat in three pieces but Puello beat out an infield single.
Matt den Dekker was the second man Iwakuma faced. Den Dekker bounced one in the hole between the first baseman and the second baseman. Another single. That ball wasn’t hit particularly hard, either.
Wilmer Flores was next. Flores served one over shortstop for another single. Total bloop job.
Andrew Brown was the fourth man Iwakuma faced. Brown hit a sharp one-hopper to third base. Should have been a double play. Gabriel Noriega, the Tacoma third baseman, hurled a hand grenade into right field. Instead of two outs, Tacoma got none.
That brought Allen Dykstra to the plate. Dykstra lofted a soft line drive to center field. It looked like that one might fall, too, but James Jones caught it. Then Jones threw another hand grenade, this one to home plate that flew over everybody’s head.
Five batters, three scratch hits, two throwing errors, one sacrifice fly, one broken bat, three broken-bat shards flying around the well-manicured infield. Three Las Vegas runs.
One established major league pitching star — Iwakuma finished third in last year’s American League Cy Young voting — who looked sort of disgruntled after shagging that overthrow from center field and trudging back to the middle of the diamond.
So the 51s led 3-0 after the first inning.
When you’re hot, you’re hot.
But this being baseball, this being a pastime which ebbs and flows over a long season — and sometimes over a few long innings — the 51s would wind up losing 5-4.
When you’re hot, sometimes you even get beat.
Las Vegas let Tacoma back into the game with two unearned runs in the second inning, and were forced into rally-hat mode when Jesus Montero touched Verrett for a three-run homer in the fifth.
By then, Iwakuma was icing his arm and making the Japanese reporters wait for quotes after throwing 76 pitches in four innings, 56 for strikes.
When Backman was asked afterward if he believed in the properties of momentum, he said he did. He also believes throwing errors early in a game can sap momentum, even from a team as hot as the 51s.
“We made a mistake that was costly early in the game that allowed a couple of runs,” Backman said of shortstop Wilmer Flores’ errant heave. “They made some mistakes, too.
“We had chances. We just didn’t capitalize on the chances we had. So today’s gone. Start over tomorrow. Start another streak.”
That’s the way it is in baseball. A season ebbs, a season flows. Winning streaks end, another one one begins.
It’s still April. The 51s are 18-6. There’s another game tonight, against the dreaded Reno Aces. Moves will be made, buttons will be punched. Managerial strings may even be pulled.
Hot dogs are only $1.
Perhaps by the end of today, the 51s once again will own the best record in minor league baseball because Dunedin and Hagerstown both won Sunday to improve to 18-5.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.