The first time Willie Calhoun rounded the bases Sunday night, it was after some examination. His second trip, however, there was never any doubt.
Calhoun hit a pair of home runs, including the game-winner in the eighth inning, leading the Express to a 5-4 win against the Albuquerque Isotopes at Dell Diamond and helping Round Rock win three of four games in the series.
“I’m just trying to keep it simple and I was able to put two good swings on it,” Calhoun said. “I’m trying to be consistent with my line drives and sometimes my line drives tend to carry out. I’m an aggressive hitter. I’m still aggressive I’m just more selective.”
Round Rocks starter David Ledbetter (2-2, 4.20 ERA) lasted six innings and gave up three runs on four hits with five strikeouts. Sam Wolff (2-2, 2.42 ERA) picked up the win despite blowing the save, and Preston Claiborne earned his 15th save of the season after striking out one in the ninth inning.
“The pitching is getting better, and this time of year, that’s what you’re looking for,” Express manager Jason Wood said. “Guys are stepping up because this time of year, they could have their name called on. When you get six innings out of a starting pitcher, it’s quality.”
The Express dominated the first game of the series, winning 6-1 on Thursday before losing a close, 1-0 game on Friday in which they only managed four hits. The bats came alive on Saturday when all nine batters had a base hit in the 7-3 win on Saturday.
Ledbetter gave up his first hit in the fourth inning on a leadoff double to left field. Two batters later, the righty gave up another hit, a one-out double to right field that gave Albuquerque a 1-0 lead.
The Isotopes homered for the fourth time in the series with a solo shot in the fifth inning.
Jared Hoying sent a 1-0 pitch to left field with one out in the sixth and Calhoun followed that up with his third home run since joining the Express at the trade deadline. Wood came out to argue. After a brief umpire meeting, they determined it was a home run.
“I didn’t blow up, I just wanted to know what he saw,” Wood said. “I knew what I saw. I saw it hit the railing and bounced back. (Second base umpire) Ramon De Jesus said he saw it and I kind of overheard them and then I knew we had it.”
Drew Stubbs tied the game with a two-out double to right field that scored Pete Kozma and tie the game. Doug Bernier followed that up with a bunt single. Stubbs came home from third to take the lead after the throw to first was off the mark.
But Albuquerque came back, loading the bases with one out and chasing reliever Adam Loewen after giving up a walk and a single in the only two batter he faced. Sam Wolff gave up a sacrifice fly to tie the game on the first pitch he threw but struck out the next batter to limit the damage.
Calhoun left no doubt with his second homer of the game, launching a 1-0 pitch 395 feet over the right field wall. Between Round Rock and Oklahoma City, the 22-year old has 27 homers, good for second in the Pacific Coast League.
Round Rock hits the road for a 12-game road trip beginning Monday night in Colorado Springs and continuing in Oklahoma City and New Orleans. The express return to Dell Diamond on Aug. 19 to host the Omaha Storm Chasers.
The Express are 7-2 in the last nine games and outscored their opponents 48-26 in that span. Only the division winners qualify for the postseason and the elimination number for Round Rock is eight. With an 18-37 road record this season, this road trip could make or break the season.
But Wood is still happy with the talent he has and the improvement he’s seen.
“Guys like Pete Kozma and Doug Bernier do their thing every night and show energy,” he said. “There are good ballplayers here in Round Rock. You take away the record, but the quality of the baseball we’re putting on the field, you wish you could have it all year, but it’s nice to have it now.”