The ups and downs, ins and outs of this American Association season play out like an echo in Amos Ramon's ears: he's heard this song before.
So it went last season, when the Winnipeg Goldeyes struggled to take flight. In 2012, after 47 games and almost at the halfway mark of the American Association season, the Fish were sitting on a record of 27-20, and that story ended with a trophy and the ecstasy of victory. On Monday afternoon, before taking on the Gary-SouthShore RailCats, the squad was carrying a 2013 record of 24-23, just a few games gone the other way.
But a few games can scuttle a season, too, and after dropping the first pair against the RailCats over the weekend, the Fish slipped to third in the American Association's North Division. There, they sit nine wins behind the leading Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and only in the middle of the pack for a playoff wildcard spot.
"We're getting closer to the point where our season could be over in the next two weeks," said Ramon, the American Association's 2012 playoff MVP during the Goldeyes' dramatic championship run. "You just don't know. We need to start winning games. It doesn't matter how... We're playing really well. We're just missing that one key hit sometimes."
Here's the good news: those key hits, increasingly, are coming from Ramon himself. The infielder has quietly put together a solid season, and even moreso as of late. After 46 games played-in this season, he already scored two more home runs than the four he pounded out in 71 regular-season tilts last year. Meanwhile, he led the team in OPS -- on-base plus slugging, a popular stat to measure a batter's value -- and only powerhouse hitter Casey Haerther had batted in more runs, with 29 to Ramon's 28.
For this success, Ramon credits a growing confidence in how he sees the ball, but he doesn't count the numbers. "I used to (look at numbers) a lot when I was starting my career," said Ramon, who turned 30 just last month. "Now, I look at individual games. Did I have a good game today? The numbers are going to speak for themselves at the end of the year. When you start worrying about numbers, that's when they go down. When you start worrying about 'oh, I need two hits to get back over .300,' then they'll start going backwards."
Well, that's not the way the numbers have been marching for him lately, as Ramon's fire has burned especially bright: he delivered the Goldeyes' first double home-run effort on July 2nd's heartbreaking 9-8 home loss to the St. Paul Saints. Three days later, he had a monster outing in a 14-7 rout of the visiting Minnesota team, slugging out four hits in six tries, batting in two runners and scoring twice himself.
"When you have games like that, it really helps," he said, not just for himself but for the team. "It helps confidence-wise to get us going again. And I think we have been... we've been doing a lot of things to win games, we just haven't got that last key hit."
Some good news on that end: a couple of weeks after noted base thief Tyler Graham left the Fish to try his luck in the Mexican League, the speedy outfielder returned to Winnipeg on Monday. That addition had Ramon beaming: during Graham's brief first stint with the Goldeyes in June, his predatory approach to the plate seemed to light a fire under the Goldeyes order.
"He's a speedy guy," Ramon said. "Hopefully, it will bring that spark again, and we can keep it rolling."