Originally created 06/27/99

Gardner optimistic



So far, all the talk at the all-star break about fresh starts and second chances has been just that.

Talk.

So far in the second half for the Augusta GreenJackets and Columbus RedStixx, things remain status quo.

The RedStixx, who posted the second-best record in the South Atlantic League in the first half and captured the Southern Division title, just keep rolling, improving to 3-0 since the break with a 4-2 victory over the Jackets at The Lake on Saturday.

And then there's the Jackets, who finished the first half with the fourth-worst record in the league, 14 games behind the Stixx. Saturday's loss was their second in a row, their seventh in the last eight games and ninth in their last 11. It dropped them 12 games under .500 for the season (30-42).

But the consensus in the Jackets clubhouse is that their talk is not cheap; that three games into the second half is no time to push the panic button.

"We've had three tough games where we haven't played that bad, and I feel like this is actually a good start," Jackets manager Billy Gardner said. "We've played three pretty good ballgames and just came up a little short the last two nights."

Despite a three-hit night by leadoff man Tee Brown and a solid outing for starter Mike Mowel, the Jackets squandered a 2-1 lead in the sixth and stumbled twice when opportunity knocked.

Columbus tied the game 2-2 in the top of the sixth on an RBI-double by all-star MVP Jesus Hernandez then took a 3-2 lead on an RBI-single by Edgar Cruz.

Twice, though, the red-hot Brown started rallies for the Jackets and twice the rallies fell short.

The 21-year-old center fielder led off the bottom of the sixth with a double but was left stranded, and was stranded again after lacing a one-out single and advancing to second on an error by left fielder Osmany Santana.

Augusta hitters went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

"Since we had such a bad first half, everybody's pressing to do more in the second half," said Brown, who raised his average to .267 with his 3-for-4 evening. "We're playing well right now. Everyone needs to relax and just go out there and have fun."

For Mowel, the season of his discontent continues. Though he allowed just two earned runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings, walking none while striking out seven, the 19-year-old right-hander's record fell to 3-9, tying him for most losses in the league.

Second in the league with a .270 team batting average, the RedStixx picked up 10 more hits Saturday, including two apiece for second baseman/leadoff hitter Brian Benefield, shortstop Maicer Isturiz and right fielder Tyler Minges.

RedStixx starter Matt White (2-4) allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings for the win, and all-star closer Juan Aracena picked up his 16th save, which ties him for the league lead.

"We ran into some pretty good pitching tonight," Gardner said. "I like what this club is doing right now," Gardner said. "I think there's a good attitude, I think there's a fresh attitude, and I think we're gonna do good things in the second half."

Rob Mueller covers minor league baseball for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3425 or robm99@hotmail.com.



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