Jim Haley had never been to AT&T Field in Chattanooga before Friday. As he and his Double-A Montgomery teammates strolled the grounds pregame, he noticed the warning track was unlike any he'd seen in a baseball life of 25 years. This one wasn't so much dirt and dust as it was rubber, kind of like a track.
The surface might have been the first ingredient of the Rays prospect's cycle as the Biscuits rolled to a 17-6 rout of the Lookouts, but sneaky speed, a little bit of luck and a hot bat rounded out the recipe.
Gameday box score
Haley racked up four RBIs and scored three times in the milestone effort. It started with a swing at the second pitch he saw from right-hander Brad Markey in the second inning. The ball zipped down the first base line with right fielder Michael Beltre in pursuit. Oh, it might burn him a little bit. Haley raced around first and looked to Morgan Ensberg at third base. The manager waved him on. OK, cool. The final 90 feet approached and Ensberg didn't relent. There's no way. Haley put his head down. He slid into home. Safe. It wasn't close. I wonder what happened there. Maybe it took a funky hop on the funky track. Maybe Beltre hit the wall.
Haley still doesn't know because his teammates were too rowdy in congratulating him to explain what just happened.
"I was so gassed after that inside-the-park home run," he said. "I got in the dugout and my legs were gone. Then I hit that triple and I'm like, 'Oh, my goodness gracious. You gotta be kidding me.'"
Haley's follow up three-bagger was a little less strenuous. He hacked the first pitch from southpaw Tyler Jay into right field and walked into third base. Maybe, as he and his coaches have often discussed, the opposition had underestimated Haley's speed. Yes, he plays a lot of first and third base, where he started Friday. But he's swiped 26 bags this season and 63 in his career. He's no slowpoke.
2019 Minor League milestones
"I've always been an athlete," said Haley, who set a career high with 10 total bases. "I played football. I think it kind of deceives pitchers and the other team when they see a corner guy get on base. It's almost like, 'Oh, don't worry about him, he's not going to do anything.'"
With the secret out and the more challenging half of the cycle complete, Haley didn't ponder the possibilities. He grounded out in the fourth and sixth, then tagged right-hander Jesse Stallings for a two-run single to left in the eighth. Lookouts first baseman Gavin LaValley had to point out that just a double remained.
Even then, Montgomery had only five outs with which to play and Haley didn't expect another at-bat. When his spot came around with two outs in the ninth and a position player on the mound, he felt even worse about his chances to make history.
"I think I would rather face the actual pitcher," said Haley, who's batting .302 with a .930 OPS in August. "They bring in these position guys and you kinda psych yourself out. They come up there kind of lobbing the ball in there. I was like, 'I know I'm going to get big here. I know I'm gonna roll over.' My thought process was, 'Forget about the double, forget about the cycle. Your only goal here is to put the barrel on the ball. That will be a win for me.'"
2019 MiLB include
Sure enough, the Biscuits' 25th hit of the night was Haley's RBI double off infielder Yonathan Mendoza.
Carl Chester and Grant Kay also had four hits apiece. Rays No. 3 prospect Vidal Brujan collected three knocks to bring his Southern League average up to .263, and 12th-ranked Josh Lowe homered and drove in four runs. He has 17 dingers on the season, nine more than his previous career high.
But Haley's cycle clincher was last, setting a franchise record for hits in a game. The previous record of 24 was set on July 22, 2004. It was the Biscuits' second cycle of the season after Brett Sullivan pulled off the feat in order on June 5 against Tennessee. And it wouldn't have happened had left fielder Michael O'Neill not failed to make a sliding catch on the play.
"I think that's the only way a cycle happens," Haley said. "The stars align that night."