Ray Chang could hear the 3,192 fans at Blue Wahoos Stadium cheering loudly Tuesday night as he stepped up to the plate in the sixth inning of a game where you had to wonder if anyone was ever going to score.
Chang is the crowd favorite, nicknamed the Mayor of Pensacola, and arrived back in town Monday after a stint with Triple-A Louisville.
The expectation was that he would deliver in a big moment, and well, in classic Chang fashion, he did.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Chang smacked a two-run hit into the outfield, pushing Pensacola in front of Jacksonville by a 2-0 score and setting the wheels in motion for what would eventually be a 5-2 victory.
“It was weird today. I wasn’t locked in mentally first couple of at-bats, maybe it had to do with being my first game back,” Chang said. “In my third at-bat, with the situation, you lock yourself in and see the ball better. I was trying to get a good pitch to hit and I did.”
Chang has been playing minor league baseball since 2005 and while he has never made it to the Major League level, he is beloved in Pensacola, spending parts of the last four years here.
“The fans really get me going. I can feel the noise behind me,” Chang said. “It helps a lot and means a lot. These fans love baseball and they love their Wahoos. It make us want to go out every night and get the W.”
Chang was part of the team that won the second-half division title and earned a Southern League playoff berth last season and barring anything crazy, he’ll be with the Blue Wahoos for their postseason journey again this season.
Pensacola has already wrapped up the first half South Division title and could still win the second-half crown. With Tuesday’s win, the Blue Wahoos sit just a half game behind the first-place Mississippi Braves, who once appeared to be running away with the division. They are 4-10 since Dansby Swanson was promoted to Atlanta.
Meanwhile, the Blue Wahoos are rolling, winning five in a row. A two-out double by Joe Hudson in the sixth extended Pensacola’s lead to 4-0. Alex Blandino scored on a wild pitch to make it 5-0. Six games still remain in the regular season and Pensacola opens the playoffs next Wednesday at home against an opponent yet to be determined.
“We want to go into the playoffs hot,” Pensacola manager Pat Kelly said. “It’s hard sometimes when you win that first half, but this last month, we’ve gotten back on track. Our starting pitching is doing well, our bullpen has been good all year, we play defense and we get clutch hits. To me, we’re on a good roll right now.”
Sal Romano is certainly on a roll, a stark contrast to where he was earlier this season when he failed to get a win in 11 consecutive starts. He lost nine of them. The others ended in no decisions.
He has lost just once since July 7th and has won four games since then, pushing his record to 5-11. On Tuesday, he went eight innings, allowed two hits and struck out six.
“It’s fun to see how far he has come,” Pensacola manager Pat Kelly said. “He has great confidence on the mound and really goes after guys. We always knew he had good stuff. It was just a matter of putting it all together.”
Romano said preparation and confidence have played a big role in his surge of success.
“It’s just my preparation before the game,” Romano said. “I’m being confident out there and pitching, not throwing. I’ve always been a hard thrower, but I’ve learned to pitch, to trust my pitches and pitch off my fastball. That was the most important thing I did (Tuesday). It made my other stuff more effective.”
As far as the playoffs go, the Blue Wahoos are ready.
“We have a special team and this could be a special run,” Romano said. “We six pitchers we can throw out there at any time who can give us quality innings and a lot of our guys are swinging the bats very well. We are going to be a very hard team to beat.”