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Posted Jul 5, 2011, 6:09 am
The time was 1 p.m. on Monday when James Darnell arrived to Tucson. The third baseman had just been called up from Double-A, and he would make his Triple-A debut with the Tucson Padres in six hours.
As Darnell readied himself for his big day, there was only one thing that went through the 24-year-old's mind.
"The advice that all of my managers and everyone has given me is to just be myself," Darnell said. "They said to keep working hard, do what I do, and good things will happen. So that was what I was concentrating on before the game: be myself."
When game time struck on July 4 against the Reno Aces, Darnell was slotted in the cleanup position, the same spot he owned on the San Antonio Missions in Double-A.
The right-hander got his first opportunity in the bottom of the first inning with Kyle Blanks on first base.
While Darnell was approaching the plate, he made sure his pre-game conviction stayed with him.
"I was just trying to be myself," he said. "That was what I was thinking about in that moment."
In his first Triple-A at-bat, Darnell doubled off the left-center wall. It drove in Blanks for the Padres' first run of the night.
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"I think it's always something in the back of your mind – the need to prove yourself at this level," Darnell said. "But it's not something that you think about too much or dwell on, because you just want to go out there and do the best you can. And that's more likely to happen if you just be yourself."
Tucson dropped Monday's game against the Aces, 6-5. But Darnell went 3-for-5 with 2 runs and an RBI.
"There's a lot of guys who come up here and feel like they have to play different, and they get tentative because of that," Padres head coach Terry Kennedy said. "But Darnell maintained his aggressiveness at the plate and got some beautiful swings on the ball tonight."
Darnell was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2008 as a second-round pick. He batted .333 with 17 home runs and 62 RBIs for San Antonio this season.
"I've been watching him since we signed him," Kennedy said. "He's grown a lot physically but also in his approach to hitting. He's become so much more aggressive without sacrificing the good eye that he has. He's always had a pretty good idea of the strike zone but now he's combined that with a healthy aggressiveness that makes him a serious threat at the plate."
In the Independence Day game, neither team captured a convincing lead at any point of the game. Darnell's RBI double put Tucson up 1-0 after two innings, but Reno tied the game in the top of the third on a solo shot by Tony Abreu.
The Aces tacked on another run in the top of the fifth due to some small ball, putting the score at 2-1.
The Padres evened the game in the bottom of the sixth on a three-hit inning. Reno's Brandon Allen homered in the seventh, giving the Aces a 4-2 edge over the Padres going into the eighth.
A single by Darnell and walk by Steve Tolleson set up an RBI single by Guillermo Quiroz in the bottom half of the eighth to pull Tucson within a run, 4-3. The Aces increased their lead to 6-3 in the final inning, tacking on solo home runs by David Winfree and Allen.
Tucson's Blanks sent a two-run homer to center field in the bottom of the ninth, but the Padres couldn't put across any more in the inning, as a 6-5 victory went to Reno on Monday.
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The Padres missed multiple scoring opportunities, leaving two on base each in the third, sixth and eighth innings.
Tucson suffered its first loss in nine games, winning eight straight before Monday's bout. The Padres, at 42-43, are now in third place, 8.5 games behind the first place Sacramento River Cats, who lost in Fresno Monday. Reno won its 50th game compared to 34 losses.
The Padres continue their three-game set against Reno on Tuesday at Kino Stadium.