Astudillo, Wahoos Smash Chattanooga
The second pitch Willians Astudillo saw Thursday night -- his first live action since late June -- he sent the ball soaring toward the water beyond left field.
On this night, that sunset, first inning homer, was so fitting.
The jovial Astudillo was an early season part of the Minnesota Twins "Bomba Squad" before a strained oblique put him on the injured list. The popular catcher led off a four home run night in the Blue Wahoos crushing 13-0 win against the Chattanooga Lookouts at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
"I have known him for a long time," said Blue Wahoos manager Ramon Borrego, a fellow native of Venezuela. "The first thing he told me (when arriving Thursday) was that he's going to hit a homer.
"He said, 'Hey the ball in this park flies. So I'm going to hit a homer and I probably will hit two.' That's him."
It was the Blue Wahoos' second-most runs scored this season. Their largest margin of victory. They took a 2-1 series lead heading to Friday's game.
But most of all, this team has already crushed the eight-year, franchise record for most home runs in a season.
The Blue Wahoos finished with 106 home runs in 2018 as a Cincinnati Reds affiliate. That was only the second time in club history they hit more than 100 homers in a complete season.
They now have 111 in 121 games. That's a lot of Bombas.
It's the "Baby Bombas" version of the parent club, where the Twins enter their weekend series with a major-league best 236 homers, which is 14 more than the second-best New York Yankees and one of only four teams with more than 200.
The Yankees set the all-time MLB record last year with 267 homers.
"With the big league team crushing all these home runs... for us, it's like, oh we see them doing it and we kind of want to," said Blue Wahoos shortstop Royce Lewis, who went 2-for-4 Thursday to raise his average to .269 and scored three runs, including twice on teammates' homers.
"At the end of the day, when you are a little kid, you don't dream about hitting a single, you dream of hitting a home run, a grand slam," said Lewis, smiling, who didn't homer Thursday, but has three since joining the Blue Wahoos. "So to be able to do so, especially as you get older and start maturing and getting stronger, it is really cool.
"For me, I try to hit the ball as hard as I can every at-bat, so I'm sure (fellow teammates) are trying to do the same thing and throughout the whole organization."
The Blue Wahoos (65-56 overall, 27-24 second half) have hit the second-most home runs in the Southern League. The Jackson (Tenn.) Generals, who visit Aug. 22-27 in the season's final homestand, lead with 115 homers.
The Twins' Low-A affiliate, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, lead the Midwest League in homers. The High-A Fort Myers Miracle are second in the Florida State League in homers.
"Throughout the whole organization, from top to bottom, it seems like we are hitting home runs at a different pace and a different level," said Lewis, the overall No. 1 selection in the 2017 MLB Draft by the Twins. "That's the new way of playing games.. hitting home runs and (pitchers) striking people out. It's obviously working."
Astudillo's first-inning, homer Thursday night was followed by Lewis reaching base on a throwing error, then Ryan Jeffers following with a two-out, two-run homer.
That proved more than enough runs. Four Blue Wahoos' pitchers, beginning with opener Marcos Diplan (first inning), then Edwar Colina (4-0), who worked the next three innings, combined on the shutout. Colina has now recorded wins in four of his six starts since joining the Blue Wahoos.
Gabriel Moya, who appeared in 35 games last year for the Twins, followed by allowing just one hit in the next three innings. Anthony Vizcaya finished with two scoreless innings.
"Everything was outstanding: defense, pitching, offense and when you put that stuff together, you are going to have a really good game," Borrego said.
The Blue Wahoos pounded 12 hits, which followed the 13 hits produced in Wednesday's win. Mark Contreras hit a solo homer in the seventh. Ryan Costello hit a three-run homer in the eighth off Lookouts' third baseman Yonathan Mendoza, who worked the eighth inning as the team's fifth pitcher used Thursday in effort to finish the game.
"We put some good swings on the ball," Borrego said. "Those guys (Lookouts pitchers) hung the fastball at times and we put some really nice swings and the balls were just flying. The guys have been taking a really good approach at the plate."
The Blue Wahoos will have Astudillo through the weekend, which includes a road trip beginning Sunday against the Mississippi Braves.
Astudillo, 27, played in 39 games this season for the Twins, where he became a huge fan favorite for his size and personality. He was batting .263 as part of the Twins' fast start when the injury occurred.
"The guys (Wahoos players) are going to enjoy him," Borrego said. "He's a guy with really good charisma. He's always chattering in the dugout, he's never quiet. It's good. He is going to push those guys and show why he's in the big leagues."
The first 1,000 fans through the gates Thursday received a bronze bobblehead of Belle Bear, honored as the Blue Wahoos 2019 Community Player of the Year.
The Pensacola resident, wife of Lewis Bear, president of the Lewis Bear Company, has led a variety of philanthropic ventures in the community. She is co-founder of Impact 100, the all-women's organization she helped raise $10 million for grants.
In addition, Mrs. Bear serves on the boards of Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Catholic Social Services, Favorhourse and Girl Scouts. She helped raise funds for construction of the Bear Levin Studer YMCA in downtown Pensacola.
She was joined on the field Thursday by two of her grandsons, who together threw out a first pitch in her honor.
The National Anthem was performed by Chandler Wells, discovered as part of the Pensacola's Got Talent competition in March.
Images from this story
Pensacola Blue Wahoos shortstop Royce Lewis
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