The 51s still have more than a month left to play, but as far as manager Wally Backman is concerned, Monday night’s game was a “must-win.”
“No question,” he said after the team’s 10-7 victory over El Paso.
After losing two straight games to the division-leading Chihuahuas, the 51s found themselves 8 1/2 games off the division lead with 36 games left to play.
“We had the opportunities (the last two games) and we didn’t get the big hits when we needed them. You hope all that stuff averages itself out but at this point in the season, we can’t hope for it averaging itself out,” Backman said. “We have to be consistent.”
Monday, they fell behind immediately before coming back to win the seesaw battle at Cashman Field to gain a game back.
“You try not to put that much pressure on yourself because you don’t want to play tense … but you definitely know that these games are key games, especially against the opponent ahead of us by quite a few games,” third baseman T.J. Rivera said. “We need to gain some ground on them.”
Rivera helped key the 51s’ comeback, driving in the game-tying run in the eighth inning.
Before that, the two teams traded leads throughout.
After starter Josh Zeid surrendered two runs in the first inning, the 51s cut the lead in half with a Roger Bernadina home run in the bottom of the frame. They added four more in the second.
“We took the lead then and that kind of gave us the confidence that we might have the ability to win this game,” Rivera said. “We just kept fighting even when they came back and tied the game up and took the lead eventually.”
El Paso took a lead of its own in the fifth, scoring three runs off Zeid and knocking him out of the game. Las Vegas tied it before El Paso took another lead the next inning.
The 51s had good scoring opportunities in both the fifth and sixth but only managed one run between the two before finally breaking through in the eighth.
Bernadina, who finished the day 3-for-5, sparked the rally with a leadoff double. Eric Campbell followed it up with a single before Rivera’s single tied the game.
A Travis Taijeron sacrifice fly gave the 51s the late lead and by the time the eighth was over, the 51s had their second four-run inning of the night.
“The key for us is definitely our pitching,” Backman said. If the pitching keeps us close, the offense that we have, what we’ve seen from time to time all year, it can be explosive at times and if the starting pitching can keep us close in the games, we have a chance every night.”
Though Zeid struggled, he kept them close enough.
And that’s exactly what the 51s will need if they’re going to make a run at the division title.
“To give ourselves any type of chance, we need to play good, consistent baseball,” Backman said. “I’d like to say we’ve done it a little bit this year, played some consistent baseball, but we really haven’t played consistently enough. I think we still have the players here and we have the potential to get back in this race but we can’t make any more mistakes the rest of the way.”