MOOSIC — A somber Al Pedrique stood outside of his office after Friday’s season-ending 6-4 loss at the hands of the Durham Bulls in Game 4 of the Governors’ Cup Finals.
He wished there was one more game. A shot to repeat. One that would never come.
But at the same time, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders manager couldn’t help but be proud of everything his team was able to accomplish this season. Winning the International League North for the third straight time. They were in the Governors’ Cup Finals back-to-back years. It was another season finishing more than 30 games over .500.
“All the kids, all the players that came in when they got the chance, they came in, they contributed,” Pedrique said. “I’m going to go home feeling good about this team — the chemistry, the heart. Especially what they showed (Friday). I’m sure the whole organization saw our game and they’re going to be proud of this group because they never quit.”
One of the RailRiders who was most distraught with the loss was the would-be Game 5 starter, Nestor Cortes.
The intriguing southpaw was scheduled to take the mound for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He even had something planned to add to his already impressive repertoire. He was going to add a “double-clutch” to his delivery.
“It’s upsetting because we didn’t get to where we wanted to,” Cortes said. “I feel like we came up short and obviously in Game 5, I wanted the ball. It sucks that we came up short.”
While Pedrique sees success in the New York Yankees’ future — both in the big leagues and in the minors — chances are likely that many of the players on the RailRiders’ final roster won’t be on the team when the 2018 season starts next spring.
In fact, Miguel Andujar and Jonathan Holder were officially called up by the Yankees on Saturday. Jonathan Diaz said he was retiring on Friday. Eddy Rodriguez is “99 percent” sure this was his last season, too.
Then there’s players like Nick Rumbelow, who will be a free agent five days after the end of the World Series.
“Since the beginning of the season I’ve been working to go to the next step and now I’m going to the next step, which is New York. I’m excited about it and can’t wait to get there,” Andujar said through an interpreter. “I came back with a plan, whether it was defense or offense. Every at-bat, every ground ball I took, I took it with a purpose because I knew I had to better myself whether it was my hitting or defense.”
To have the success that the RailRiders did, with all of the moving pieces, is something Pedrique will never forget.
Even though Scranton/Wilkes-Barre made 320 roster moves this season and only had three players in both starting lineups on opening day and in the season finale — Mason Williams, Donovan Solano and Kyle Higashioka — they still finished with the league’s best record and tops in batting average and ERA.
“I think my job combined with the coaching staff is to make sure we as a staff are on the same page and pull the same direction. Once the players sense that and they see that from the staff they have no choice, but to follow us,” Pedrique said. “We’re the leaders. I’m very happy with my coaching staff. We’re on the same page every day and we knew what our jobs were, and once the players saw that, it’s why everything worked out.”
McKinney excited for future
The Yankees have to make a decision on RailRiders outfielder Billy McKinney’s future very soon.
The 22-year-old is eligible for the December’s Rule 5 Draft. If he’s not placed on New York’s 40-man roster, he can be drafted by another team. This happened to fellow outfielder Jake Cave this past offseason.
“I haven’t really thought about that too much,” McKinney said of his future. “I just try to go out there and play well every day and hope for the best. I love this organization and I just hope for the best and look forward to the future.”
Whether it’s with the Yankees or not, McKinney will try to roll over his success from this season as he tries to make the next step and become a big-league player.
“Looking back on it now because I try not to look at stats during the year — I know it’s tough but I try as much as possible — I’m proud of what I did and I just hope to improve on that and get better in the offseason and hopefully go out there next year and do better. That’s the goal,” McKinney said.
Rumbelow feels that he’s back
Rumbelow finally felt like himself again.
After missing the entire 2016 campaign and the beginning of the 2017 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, the former Yankees reliever finally feels like he’s back to normal. By season’s end he had worked into the closer role for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“I feel really comfortable going into the offseason,” Rumbelow said. “This year I just wanted to rehab well. Those first two months of the season I missed, so it was just cool to even pitch in big games. That was definitely a cool experience for me. Now I’m walking away from this year pretty happy.”
Rumbelow is a free agent this offseason and is looking forward to what’s in store.
“I think what I did this year in Triple-A will speak for itself,” Rumbelow said. “I went out there and took the ball every night and competed, which is what I want to do. (Pedrique) had confidence in me all season long. I just kind of left it up to them.”
Cortes surprised with season
Cortes’ rise to the RailRiders might have been one the most impressive feats of the season.
The 22-year-old started the year with High-A Tampa, where he pitched in just one game, then spent two-plus months in Double-A Trenton before flip-flopping between the Thunder and RailRiders before establishing a role for himself with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in early August. By the playoffs, the southpaw became one of the RailRiders’ most-reliable starters.
“If you would have told me at the beginning of the season I’d finish the season in Triple-A with the success that I had, I would have told you, you were lying,” Cortes said. “Coming out of the bullpen, starting, having just different roles — it was just a good season.”
Even though Cortes doesn’t have the ability to overpower batters, he’s still been able to rise through the organization relatively quickly.
He turned pro in 2013 and by 2017, he was making his Triple-A debut. The feat is impressive for a 22-year-old. Now he’s looking forward to what’s next.
“I’m not an overpowering pitcher, but my fastball is up. I think as long as I throw strikes and as long as I throw my stuff, everything’s good,” Cortes said. “I think my off-speed could definitely get some work, even though I throw 60 miles, 50 miles, but I do that on purpose. I don’t do that on a daily routine. I have my good sliders, my good changeups.”