HAGERSTOWN — Mercedes will need late rush to add to batting-title collection
With a little more than two weeks left in the International League season, the race has begun.
Not the pennant race. The Rochester Red Wings still have arithmetic on their side, but that's about all, as the Pawtucket Red Sox held a magic number of nine going into last night's doubleheader.
The batting race is about to become the hot topic in the Red Wings clubhouse. Outfielder Luis Mercedes, winner of titles the past two years in the Eastern and Carolina leagues, had a 16-game hitting streak and trailed the Syracuse Chiefs' Derek Bell by 15 points going into last night's games. Bell was batting .346.
If he rallied from second to win, Mercedes would be the first Red Wing since Steve Finley (.314) in 1988 to win the IL batting title.
Last year, Mercedes made up more than 20 points in the past two weeks, going 12-for-21, with a 5-for-5 game, to win the title by one point over Jeff Bagwell.
* MISCELLANEOUS: Left-hander Jeff Ballard has won his past 2 starts, pitching complete games both times. . . . Right-hander Jeff Robinson continues to have problems. He has allowed 18 hits and 17 runs (15 earned) in his past 9 innings. Monday against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Robinson allowed four runs in 1 1/3 innings in an 8-1 loss. The Suns seem destined to play the Albany-Colonie Yankees in the first round of the Eastern League playoffs.
They are running in almost a dead heat for second place, with the first-place Harrisburg Senators apparently out of reach.
The advantage to finishing second would be the first two games and the fifth game (if necessary) of a best-of-five playoff series at home, where the Suns are 41-21 this year, including 6-1 against Albany-Colonie.
The playoffs open Sept. 3, the day after the regular season ends.
* MISCELLANEOUS: Rodney Lofton is well on his way to the team's MVP award. He has batted .341 in the past 60 games with 36 stolen bases and has reached base in 53 games during that span. He leads the league with 52 steals. . . . In the Suns' past 10 pinch-hit at-bats, they have 6 hits and 3 walks. . . . Pat Leinen has won 5 starts in a row, Mike Oquist 4 decisions in a row.
The Keys are down to their final hope of defending the Carolina League championship.
Of their 13 remaining games before last night, six were against the Lynchburg Red Sox, the Northern Division's second-half leader, who held a six-game edge on the fourth-place Keys.
At the least, Frederick needed to win five of those to maintain any shot of meeting the first-half champion Prince William Cannons for the North crown.
* MISCELLANEOUS: Two infielders, Tony Beasley and Randy Berlin, have both pitched in one-sided games. Beasley has made three appearances to a 4.50 ERA, and Berlin has pitched 1 scoreless inning, allowing a hit and a walk.