My, how things have changed in four days.
When they left Waterfront Park for Akron on Wednesday afternoon, the Thunder looked like a team on the verge of an all-time meltdown. They had just been swept by the Altoona Curve, this time by a score of 14-2, and had reached the season's low point.
Dellin Betances, in what will be his final start of the season, continued his series of grotesque implosions. The bullpen behind him wasn't much better, surrendering nine runs on nine hits over the game's final five innings.
It was the third straight day that found the clubhouse somehow beyond silent postgame, an especially impressive feat considering the players had to quickly pack their things for an eight-hour root canal of a bus ride to Ohio.
Manager Tony Franklin assessed his team's morale thusly:
“It’s pretty low right now. We’re not playing very well. At this point, it’s not about winning and losing. It’s about our character. It’s about how we’re going to handle this, and we haven’t done a good job. We’re better than this.”
Over the last four games against the Aeros, the league's best team, they've proved it.
Starting with two of the most clutch pitching performances this year, and perhaps in team history, from Vidal Nuno and Mikey O'Brien, Trenton took it to the Aeros at Canal Park.
Overall, in 24 2/3 innings, Thunder starters surrendered just six runs -- all earned -- on 15 hits and nine walks and fanned 17. Considering how they'd been playing, that's pretty darn good. When the starters left, the relievers responded in kind. In 10 1/3 frames, Trenton's bullpen limited Akron to just eight hits and two walks while whiffing a dozen.
The offense was led by one of the team's more unlikely heroes, catcher J.R. Murphy, who went 6 for 16 in the series. David Adams chipped in a 4-for-12 effort, including two doubles and the team's 151st longball of the year, breaking the record set by the 1999 and 1996 teams.
They finished the series behind Brett Marshall's career high-tying nine punchouts and late longballs from Adonis Garcia and Rob Segedin -- a pair that had combined for just three homers this season -- to put the team back on the bus a game away from both the best record in the league and, more importantly, clinching a spot in the Eastern League playoffs.
When they get to the park tomorrow, after what will almost certainly be a show-and-go day, the Thunder will be riding high and ready to pop the cork on some celebratory Champagne, something that seemed so improbable just 96 hours earlier.