The Missoula Osprey were running out of opportunities to extend their cycle streak to a fourth straight season until Isan Diaz -- one of the Pioneer League's best hitters -- picked up the torch Sunday afternoon.
The D-backs infield prospect hit for the cycle for Rookie-level Missoula in a 13-2 win over Billings at Dehler Park. It was the third Pioneer League cycle this season and 15th in all of the Minor Leagues. He follows in the footsteps of Trevor Mitsui (2014), Jose Queliz (2013) and Daniel Pulfer (2012) as Osprey to cycle in the last four years.
"Honestly, I just found that out today," Diaz said of the Missoula tradition. "It feels good to be a part of that. I'm just happy and blessed and want to thank all my teammates and coaches for being there for me this season. It's been a great day."
Diaz led off the game with a double, hit a two-run homer -- his ninth -- in the sixth and tripled in a run in the seventh, leaving just a single to turn the trick. Due up fourth in the ninth, he needed at least one teammate to reach and got that and more when Matt McPhearson singled, Tyler Humphreys got aboard on an error and Francis Christy also singled. After hooking what would have been a homer just outside the foul pole, Missoula's left-handed leadoff hitter smacked an RBI base hit to right off southpaw reliever Jacob Moody.
"You know, I wasn't trying to go for the cycle in my head or anything," said Diaz, who finished 4-for-6 with four RBIs and two runs scored. "All of my teammates were coming up to me and saying, 'All you need is a single.' But I wasn't going to let my mind go there. I just wanted to think more about a double, try to do what I had in my previous at-bats. But when he hung a slider, it happened."
The performance was a little extra-special for the 19-year-old shortstop, who thought he'd been in a slight slump -- at least by his standards -- entering Sunday. He was 4-for-15 (.267) with six strikeouts in his previous four games, not incredibly bad for a small sample, but for a player who's hitting .351 on the season, something felt wrong.
"My timing was a little off. I was a little bit late toward the ball, especially on inside pitches, which I wasn't getting to at all," he said. "At home against Orem, I was feeling like I haven't all year. I worked with my coaches and just went over videos, worked in the cage, tried to bring it back down to earth and get to where I was in July. Even today, after I popped to second [in the fourth inning], I had to think about returning to that approach and after that came the homer, the triple and the cycle."
Following his special performance, Diaz -- the 70th overall pick last year out of Central High School in Springfield, Massachusetts -- leads the league with 79 hits and ranks among the leaders in most offensive categories, including average (.351, second), on-base percentage (.424, fourth), slugging (.604, third), OPS (1.029, third), homers (nine, fifth) and RBIs (43, third). That comes one year after he produced a .187/.289/.330 line in 49 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
"It's been a great year," he said. "Last year, I was really struggling. Balls were not falling where I wanted them to be and it affected my confidence level. I know I'm a line drive hitter, so I tried to focus on that with what to do with my game and came into my games this year thinking that. I'm not here for no reason. There's a reason why I'm here, and it's me putting the ball into gaps. Just doing what I did back in high school.
"I had some conversations with my dad [Raul], and he told me about coming back thinking I'm a leader. In my understanding of the game, I'm still a learner. But one of the things he told me was when things go wrong but don't kill you, they make you stronger. If failure doesn't kill you, you can wake up the next day and build off it."
Perhaps by no coincidence, Diaz's parents, brother and sister made the trek from western Massachusetts to Montana for the Osprey's seven-game homestand last week -- a gentle reminder of the good times and who helped him when it seemed like there were bad times.
"I've got a picture now of my family in the stands," Diaz said, "and that's something I'll have the rest of the way here."