Salt Lake on pace to make history

Bees lead several pitching, hitting categories after scorching start

(Brent Asay/MLB.com)

By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com | April 30, 2008 5:07 AM

The Pacific Coast League has a long and storied history, one that dates back more than a century. It was considered the third Major League by many for decades, until baseball's expansion out West, and can claim some of the game's greatest players as its alumni.

Yet for the volumes of history that the league has produced since its inception in 1903, there is nothing in its annals to compare with what Salt Lake has done to begin this season. In fact, there's nothing in the history of Minor League Baseball that matches up to the 21-1 start the Bees enjoyed at this season's outset.

Though Salt Lake saw its 13-game winning streak snapped Monday night in Memphis, the loss did little to tarnish what has been an historical run. It was the Bees' first loss away from home in 10 games and only their second overall (the first was in their April 11 home opener against Portland). While it's not likely that Salt Lake, which bounced back to beat the Redbirds on Tuesday, will continue to play at a .917 clip, the club has put itself in solid position to make a run at being the first 100-win team in the Minor Leagues since the Grady Little-managed Greenville team won 100 games in the Southern League in 1992.

Salt Lake has lost a game to snow and another to rain, but on the field it has almost had no equal. The Bees are already 7-0 against Las Vegas, 4-0 against Tucson and Fresno and 6-1 against Portland.

"To tell you the truth, it is pretty unbelievable," said Brandon Wood, who was called up to the Angels on Sunday night. "Day in and day out, just winning games. I've never seen a pitching staff, hitters and a defense on the same page doing what we were doing. We were first in hitting in the PCL, first in ERA and I think first in defense. You just don't see that.

"A lot of the guys are just playing the game the right way. It's fun baseball, and I don't think anyone is complaining. It's nice to be part of history, whether it's high school ball, rookie ball, Triple-A or the big leagues. To be part of something special for the first 23 games was fun to be around."

The Pacific Coast League has seen its share of great teams and great starts to a season. Los Angeles, playing in what was then known as the Pacific National League, started the 1903 season with 15 wins before going 50-42 the rest of the way and disbanding on Aug. 16. Los Angeles also had a great start in 1939, winning 19 consecutive games after losing its first two. That squad would finish with 97 wins and reach the league championship series before losing to Sacramento.

Los Angeles was at it again in 1943, jumping off to a 26-3 start against teams that were depleted because of World War II. Though L.A. would go on to win 110 games that year, it lost in the opening round of the playoffs to a third-place Seattle team that finished 25 games back during the regular season.

The Angels also produced what many people consider the greatest team in Minor League history. The 1934 Los Angeles squad began the season 23-5. By June 24, the Angels were 66-18 and on their way to finishing with a 137-50 record. That team won 23 of the 26 series it played that season and 29 consecutive dating back to 1933.

Of course, Salt Lake is familiar with long winning streaks. The Salt Lake City Trappers, an unaffiliated member of the Pioneer League, won a professional baseball record 29 consecutive games in 1987 en route to a league title.

Perhaps the Bees will start a new streak and approach that mark. But if they don't, they've already left an impression on the 2008 season. That much was obvious early. Salt Lake won its season opener in dramatic fashion, scoring four runs in the top of the ninth at Las Vegas. Coming from behind for a 6-3 victory appears to have been telling because the Bees have won eight of their games after taking the lead in their final at-bat, including three times in extra innings.

"I think it's kind of amazing," said Martin Renzhofer, who covers the Bees for The Salt Lake Tribune. "But they've treated every win as just another day. If you go into the clubhouse, even after a game they've won in the 10th inning, it's just 'Yeah, we won.' They do talk about it and marvel about it when asked.

"It's something they'll always remember, but they are trying to keep it on an even strain. That sort of boils down from the organization itself with the way the Angels do things."

Renzhofer added that the true test of whether the Bees have made an impact in Salt Lake City, a town dominated by the NBA's Utah Jazz, is how well the club draws on Sundays. Generally, Sunday afternoon games draw about 3,000 fans, according to Renzhofer. During Sunday's 8-1 victory over Fresno, there were 6,014.

"I've noticed a few more camera crews out at the park that usually aren't there," Renzhofer said. "Unfortunately for [the Bees] it's coming at the same time as the NBA playoffs."

Well, then most of the folks in Salt Lake have missed out on a bit of history. The Bees were leading the PCL in team batting (.317) and team ERA (3.41) after Tuesday's win at Memphis. Only Mexico of the Mexican League sports a higher team batting average (.323).

Salt Lake has incorporated a wonderful blend of high-profile prospects like Wood, Nick Adenhart and Sean Rodriguez along with veterans such as Matthew Brown and Shane Loux to form its record-setting unit. Heading into Wednesday's action, Brown, who was called up to the bigs on Wednesday, led the Minor Leagues in total bases (80) and was tied for the lead in extra-base hits (20) and runs scored (26). He was third in the Minors in both batting average (.425) and hits (45) and fifth in slugging (.755).

Wood, after a slow start, is tied for second in the Minors with eight homers. Adenhart, meanwhile, is 4-0 with a PCL-leading 0.87 ERA, while Loux is 4-1 with a 2.05 ERA. Jose Arredondo was second in the league with eight saves.

"We have a nice mixture," Wood said. "We have a lot of good players. You can have a team full of top prospects or superstars, but if they don't have good chemistry, they may not do a whole lot on the field. Everyone may not hang out together after the game, but once we are on the field and in the clubhouse, we are a team.

"And that's a credit to the Angels for their ability to bring people up through the system, sign some free agents and put them at Triple-A to make a good team. Everyone is feeding off everyone's energy."

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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