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Call-up rules help put end to 51s’ season

It was Labor Day, and game 144 (of 144) of the Pacific Coast League season was played before only a sunbaked smattering of spectators at Cashman Field. You could hear Beer Man Bruce bellow from foul line to foul line.

Going in, the 51s still had a chance, at least according to the standings. After dominating their division for most of the season — Las Vegas led the Pacific South for all but a smidgen of days — the 51s lost to Tacoma on Sunday night, while El Paso rallied again to defeat Reno.

The tenacious Chihuahuas had been nipping at the 51s’ heels during much of the pennant chase. That comeback win over Reno put them in front by one game. Were the 51s to win Monday afternoon, and were El Paso to lose — and were this real baseball — there might have been a one-game playoff.

Actually, the PCL is real baseball. But it doesn’t have a lucrative TV contract, just a game of the week on an obscure cable channel, and so there isn’t a lot of money to fly prospects around for one-game playoffs.

So the team that wins the regular-season series advances. Fair enough. Those are the rules; they are the same for everybody.

El Paso was the better team down the stretch. The Chihuahuas won a bunch of close games; they deserve to play more baseball. Plus, they have a cool nickname. And they have legions of passionate fans who turn every game at the new ballpark down there built with public money into a sold-out fiesta.

People in Las Vegas don’t pay much attention to the PCL pennant chase once the kids are back in school, and college football begins, and the parent club raids the 51s for September call-ups, even when the 51s are in the playoff hunt.

But the Mets are in the playoff hunt, too.

In recent seasons New York mostly has waited for the 51s to finish before raiding the farm for players. This year the Mets sent for four of skipper Wally Backman’s best guys (technically, Kirk Nieuwenhuis was on rehab assignment) before last week’s key four-game series against El Paso, and the equally key four games against Tacoma that brought down the curtain.

Would those four guys have made a difference? Would they have helped the 51s eke out one more victory, which would have made Monday’s game a lot more meaningful?

We’ll never know.

But if the minor leagues want baseball fans to think their playoff races mean something — if they want 51s fans to show up at the ballpark on a Tuesday night in September, where there aren’t fireworks scheduled or complimentary refrigerator schedule magnets to be handed out — then perhaps it’s time to rethink this Sept. 1 call-up rule.

I was watching the Cubs-Diamondbacks game on Saturday when Bob Brenly said as much in the broadcast booth. Brenly doesn’t care too much for the rule, either, and before he was a broadcaster, he managed the D-backs to a World Series victory over the Yankees. So he speaks from experience.

For starters, he says all those call-ups make the dugout awfully crowded. Sometimes it’s still humid in St. Louis and Chicago during September, and you need a little room to spread out so you can feel the breeze. If there is one.

Brenly went on about September call-ups for a half-inning. He said maybe baseball should do it like hockey, where you can call up extra guys, but only 25 can dress, because 25 guys is plenty even if you use pinch runners and favor double switches.

In conclusion, he said if baseball did away with September call-ups, that would be fine by him. It also would add legitimacy to the minor league playoff skirmishes, though Brenly mostly was coming at it from a major league viewpoint.

So the season ended not with another playoff bang but with a melancholy, you-think-I-can-still-get-a-tee-time-on-Tuesday whimper on a very warm Labor Day afternoon at Cashman Field. The 51s lost 5-0. The official boxscore said there were 3,137 spectators on hand.

Maybe some of the players were happy the season was over. If they were, they weren’t saying. They’re professionals. With or without a playoff game in Fresno on Wednesday.

But I’ll bet Collin McQueen was happy the season was over.

He’s one of the young guys who wriggles into the Cosmo mascot costume and sometimes gets in the way of season-ticket holders. But the kid in the Cosmo suit always entertains the smaller kids. For this, he gets paid peanuts and Crackerjack.

It gets brutally hot inside that furry costume. There’s hardly any ventilation. By Sept. 7, after 72 home dates, the Cosmo suit reeks like the Atlanta Braves.

So on Monday, the kid in the Cosmo suit challenged one more little girl to one more race around the bases. Cosmo lost. Like the 51s, he came up just a tiny bit short.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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