Brooklyn moves into lead for final NY-Penn playoff spot
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It was just shy of two weeks ago that all seemed lost on Coney Island.
The Cyclones were mired in a season-high eight-game losing streak, couldn’t hit to save their lives and were one of the most error-prone teams in the New York-Penn League, having committed five fielding miscues in back-to-back heartbreaking extra-inning losses at MCU Park.
Brooklyn was also behind four teams in the hunt for the league’s final playoff spot, and first-place Hudson Valley held a double-digit advantage in games over the slumping Cyclones in the chase for the McNamara Division title.
But thanks to the arrival of hot-hitting prospect Michael Conforto and the continuing prowess of one of the circuit’s top pitching staffs, the Cyclones (23-22) returned to Coney Island for this week’s series against Auburn having climbed back into a tie with Connecticut atop the NY-Penn wild-card standings.
“It certainly starts to re-establish some confidence,” Cyclones manager Tom Gamboa said of his once punch-less club, which has reeled off four consecutive wins, including Tuesday afternoon’s 4-1 victory at Lowell, and won eight of 11 overall since the deflating eight-game skid.
Conforto, the Mets’ first-round pick in last month’s MLB Draft, was recently named the Cyclones’ Player of the Week after hitting safely in each of his first nine games with the club.
The star left fielder stretched his professional career-opening hitting streak to 10 in Monday’s 8-5 victory at Lowell, going 1-for-4 with two runs scored, but was finally stymied at the plate in Tuesday’s triumph, finishing 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.
But Brooklyn’s recent re-emergence in the playoff race certainly hasn’t been about just one player, not with the Cyclones boasting three starters – Marcos Molina (4-1, 1.30), Octavio Acosta (3-2, 2.14) and Corey Oswalt (4-1, 2.56) – in the NY-Penn’s Top 10 in ERA.
On Tuesday, it was right-hander Casey Meisner on the hill for the Baby Bums, and the 6-foot-7 right-hander finally got off the schneid after going 0-3 in his first seven starts this season.
Meisner yielded a run on three hits with six strikeouts and two walks over five solid innings before the bullpen combination of southpaw Carlos Valdez and Brandon Welch finished off the three-game sweep of the Spinners (19-26), who fell four games back of Brooklyn in the wild-card race.
Having gone winless since July 30, 2013, when he was a member of the Gulf Coast League Mets, Meisner retired the final seven batters he faced to end his nearly year long drought on the mound.
Joe Tuschak, Michael Bernal and Tyler Moore each drove in a run for Brooklyn, which will enter a critical six-game homestand, capped by a three-game visit from Connecticut in a likely battle for wild-card supremacy entering the season’s final full month.
“We are definitely swinging the bats better,” Gamboa noted. “We were finding ways to lose. When you lose eight in a row, it would seem like when the other team made an error, we would ground into a double play.
“A lot of it is mental,” he added. “But it’s nice to see that the guys are getting their confidence. Let’s hope this is a sign of some consistency.”
And a sign that Brooklyn can return to postseason play after missing out on the playoffs last summer.
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While the Cyclones have certainly been getting back into the swing of things on the playing field, they continued to prove how dedicated they are to their fans and the Brooklyn community last Saturday at MCU Park.
Six-year-old Maggie Russo, a survivor of retinal cancer, was on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Cyclones’ 3-2 victory over Vermont.
Maggie, who received a retinal transplant in 2010 and has since made a full recovery, has teamed with the rest of her family, the Cyclones and Columbia Utilities to raise awareness for the American Childhood Cancer Organization.
The largest national grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and adolescents with cancer and their families sponsored the ballgame, officially dubbing it “Strike Out Childhood Cancer with Columbia Utilities: Brooklyn Cyclones Bat for ACCO.”
After Maggie’s inspirational first pitch, the evening featured activities designed to benefit ACCO’s ongoing advocacy work, production of informational materials about childhood cancers, and direct services through 40 affiliate organizations across the country.
“We have been looking for ways to expand our partnership with ACCO, and as a Brooklyn native, partnering with a family-friendly organization like the Brooklyn Cyclones to get the word out about ACCO’s work and mission seemed like a natural fit,” said Robert Palmese, President of Columbia Utilities.
“We pride ourselves on being more than a baseball team,” added long-time Cyclones Vice President Steve Cohen. “We strive to be leaders in the Brooklyn community. That means working with organizations like Columbia Utilities and ACCO to help raise their profile while also raising money for a great cause like the fight against childhood cancer.”
This, That and the Other Thing: Brooklyn’s pitching staff boasts a league-best 3.14 ERA, and is tied with first-place Hudson Valley with six shutouts this summer. Cyclones hurlers have also combined to yield a league-low 13 homers, thanks no doubt to the unfriendly confines of MCU Park, where long fly balls often get knocked down by the gusts coming in off the Atlantic. … Though he is not yet qualified to rank among the league’s batting leaders, Conforto is hitting a sizzling .366 (15-for-41) with five doubles, four RBIs and seven runs scored through his first 11 games as a pro. The Oregon State product also has a pair of outfield assists to his credit.