Sand Gnats' record win streak ends in tie

Rain leads Mets' Class A affiliate to draw in finale with Intimidators

John Mora's double to lead off the fifth inning was Savannah's only hit of the nightcap. (Chris Baird)

By Tyler Maun / | August 23, 2015 10:16 PM

The South Atlantic League's official record book might read that the Sand Gnats' tie ended their Minor League-best 18-game winning streak. Savannah manager Jose Leger would say you're wrong.

After capturing a 9-4 victory in Sunday's doubleheader opener, Class A Savannah was forced to settle for a 1-1 tie with Kannapolis in their season finale due to heavy rain, bringing an official close to the Minors' longest run in over a decade.

"No doubt, it was a very strange way to end it, but in our minds, the streak continues," Leger said. "Until we lose a game, the streak continues. We don't care if it doesn't count number-wise, but that's what I told the guys, 'Guys, we didn't lose this game.' I truly believe if we had continued this game, we were going to win it."

The Mets affiliate raced to a win in Sunday's opener. Shortstop Luis Guillorme plated four runs and Natanael Ramos collected three hits, including two doubles, and scored three times.

"Every night, there was a different hero," Leger said. "We had guys coming up to the plate having a good night, coming up with runners in scoring position and getting the job done, becoming the hero of that game and passing it on to the next guy. For example, the first game we won today, our catcher (Ramos) -- who's probably our third catcher, per se -- he came up today and was 3-for-3 ... and did a really good job behind the dish calling the game. It's just contagious."

The finale didn't go quite as smoothly. Kannapolis' Hunter Jones singled, stole second, moved to third on catcher Martires Arias' errant pickoff attempt and scored on a fielders choice. In the bottom of the frame, John Mora led off with a double and crossed the plate on Tomas Nido's groundout.

Then the skies opened up over Grayson Stadium.

"The rain was coming, and our groundskeeper was trying to save the field in case it was going to be playable after the rain," Leger said. "But the thunderstorm was so big, and the rain was so heavy, the field couldn't hold it. That's why they decided to call the game after like 20 minutes of it coming down hard."

That marked Savannah's first non-win since an Aug. 2 loss to Asheville, a span of three weeks and 18 victories. In the past 10 years, only the 2013 Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Nationals and the 2011 Class A Advanced Stockton Ports came close to matching the feat with 17 apiece.

"These guys, they've been into it," Leger said. "They knew about the streak. They just played good baseball. They have been playing good baseball since the season started, to be honest. This second half has been great after a slow start we had early. These guys just decided to turn it on and went on the winning streak."

The Sand Gnats lost seven of their first eight games after the South Atlantic League All-Star Break, then won 29 of their last 33.

"It's one of those deals where instead of me trying to encourage these guys to keep it going, I try to stay away from them," the skipper said. "They were so focused and so into it, I didn't want to mess with them.

"In the Dominican, I was part of some winter-ball teams that I felt the atmosphere was similar as far as everybody being into it, everybody wanting to win, but this group of guys we have is unbelievable. They feed off each other. They help each other get up when they fall. It's just one of those deals where we have a good amount of leaders and players who are learning the game at the same time and are growing in front of our eyes. We're really proud to be part of this."

With a postseason berth via Savannah's first-half Southern Division title, Leger's team is steaming toward the September playoffs on a roll unlike any other team in the Minors.

"Our guys are at the highest level right now when it comes to confidence," he said. "We have options. All of our seven starters that we have right now can go out there and pitch Game 1 of the playoffs. That's how confident we feel about the staff. The bullpen has been great. Our offense, the whole lineup is very balanced. Our defense has been absolutely incredible. Right now, we've just got to continue doing what we're doing and not look back."

As for the streak, the Sand Gnats won't change a thing about their mind-set.

"We're going to enjoy our day off tomorrow, and we're going to continue [the winning streak], starting on Tuesday," he said. "Right now, we're on an 18-game winning streak, and we're just going to make it 19. Even if it doesn't count, it counts in our minds."

Tyler Maun is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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