They were 12-and-a-half games behind the rival Fresno Grizzlies on June 15th. They took over first place for good by winning four out of five from the Grizzlies in an electric late August series. And by last Friday night, the River Cats' improbable comeback was complete.
Highlight: "Hernandez to the plate, the 1-1 pitch, swung on and bounced down the middle. Might be two. Fielding it is Sogard, steps on the bag, throws to first - and the River Cats have won! And hey Art, this one's for you! The River Cats are the Southern Division champions for 2010…"
That's River Cats broadcaster Johnny Doskow on KSTE Radio. The reference to "Art" - Art Savage, the team's owner and the man who brought baseball to Sacramento. He died in the offseason. So how'd the 2010 Cats turn it around? Here's relief pitcher Jon Hunton:
Hunton: "We had some guys who were trying to press to get their numbers up real early, and just worry about themselves. And our defense was really shaky. And then all of a sudden, we just started gelling as a team, we started playing better, and everything just kind of unraveled to where we were playing the way we should've played."
River Cats president Alan Ledford says the playoff chase worked wonders for attendance.
Ledford: "We've not had that kind of playoff atmosphere during the regular season. We've been fortunate enough when we've won the division to have clinched earlier on. So to be in a real pennant race like that, even though it's a little counterintuitive 'cause you want to clinch as soon as possible, from the business side, it was terrific."
And speaking of the business side, how did the River Cats do during the recession this year?
Ledford: "We're generally flat in most areas. A couple are up a bit. Compared to our brethren, that's been a very positive sign."