In Brian Drahman's tenure as pitching coach, Great Falls has won 40 or more games five times, led the Pioneer League in ERA three times, finished in the top three in shutouts five times and with the fewest walks four times.
And it's been more of the same in 2014, Drahman's sixth season with the Voyagers. Entering Wednesday, they led the league in both ERA (3.39) and shutouts (4), and ranked in the top three in victories, strikeouts and fewest walks.
Dane Stone, one of the league's top starting pitchers, credits Drahman's influence for the mound dominance. And it's based on an uncomplicated idea.
"It's a cliché, but he just teaches us to throw pitches for strikes," Stone said. "I know that's down to the basics, and at the Rookie level, a lot of guys get carried away with strikeouts and things like that, but we just try to throw strikes and everything else happens to fall our way."
After eight starts, the right-handed Stone led the league with a 2.08 ERA, and his four victories were tied for second. His 45 strikeouts ranked second, and he had walked just 10 for a league-best WHIP of 1.07. Fellow starter Chris Feudenberg had the third-ranked ERA at 3.17 through nine starts and was leading the league in innings pitched.
Out of the bullpen, John Bengard's five saves were one off the league pace. Bengard had 22 strikeouts and just three walks in 17 2/3 innings.
At 3.39, Great Falls was the only team with a collective ERA under 4.00, a rarity at the Rookie level. Since 2009, only one Pioneer League team (Billings in 2010) has finished the season with an ERA below 4.00.
"I hope the staff takes a lot of pride in it," Drahman said. "Every year I sit there and mention it. I do have personal goals, I tell them. But they have to go out and do it. I always want to get an under-4.00 ERA in the league. These guys are striving to do that with good pitching themselves. So if they go out there and do well, the numbers are going to fit in."
"He has some feel," Stone said of Drahman. "During the games he doesn't really talk much. He lets you do your thing. He knows you're out there working. As soon as the game is over or the next day he'll tell you what you did good, what you did bad. Every day there's something to work on. I emphasize that a lot. Every day is a struggle, I guess. And you have to keep improving every day."
Great Falls ran away with the first-half championship in the North Division to clinch its eighth consecutive playoff berth. It's the longest active postseason streak in the league. The Voyagers are chasing their third championship in that span.
"Every year is different," Drahman said. "Even the team we won it with [in 2011] wasn't the most talented team. But they came together. A lot of guys can do that, but it comes down to physical ability at the end of the year. Not who wants it more, but who's going to be ready to go, pitching and doing what they need to do for the playoff push.
"We're in there again this year. We have some talent here, but a lot of guys are working to put in their little piece of the pie to get it done."
Still hitting: With a triple Tuesday night against Great Falls, Missoula's Justin Williams stretched his hitting streak to 24 games. It is the longest streak in the league this season, eight shy of the record of 32 set by Billings' Chris Valaika in 2006. Grand Junction's Raimel Tapia had a 29-game hitting streak last season.
Fisticuffs: Tuesday's 16-inning marathon between Idaho Falls and Ogden was by far the longest game in the league this season. It was marred by a brawl in the 10th inning that resulted in 10 ejections, including those to Raptors manager Jack McDowell and Chukars skipper Omar Ramirez. Idaho Falls won 9-8 on Brandon Thomasson's RBI-double.
Lucky No. 7: Missoula leadoff hitter Fernery Ozuna had seven RBIs on July 25 in a 22-5 rout of Helena. Ozuna is the second player to drive in seven runs in a game this season. Billings' Aristides Aquino did it on July 20 in a 19-11 win over Ogden.