Brooklyn Continues Playoff Push, Stays Two Ahead of Connecticut
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
News, both good and bad, travels fast when you’re in the thick of a hotly contested playoff chase.
First-year Brooklyn manager Tom Gamboa was in the dugout Wednesday night at MCU Park when he heard that Connecticut’s Franklin Navarro had connected for a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning, lifting the playoff-hopeful Tigers to a thrilling 5-4 victory over Lowell.
That stunning result suddenly upped the ante on the Cyclones’ ongoing tooth-and-nail extra-inning struggle with Staten Island during the Baby Bums’ penultimate home game of the summer in front of 7,786 Brooklyn baseball enthusiasts on Coney Island.
“You could feel the electricity in the park tonight,” Gamboa admitted. “This game really meant something.”
It meant that with a loss, the Cyclones would have their lead in the New York-Penn League Wild Card chase to just one game over the Tigers with five to play.
It also meant that with a win, the Yankees would keep their dwindling playoff hopes alive in the hopes of vanquishing the Cyclones during their season-ending home-and-home series this coming Sunday and Monday.
Fortunately for Brooklyn, neither of those scenarios played out.
After stranding 13 runners over the first 10 innings, the playoff-hungry Cyclones got the run they desperately needed in the bottom of the 11th.
And they did so by perfectly executing “the little things” Gamboa always emphasizes the importance of to his young players.
First, Tucker Tharp used his blazing speed to beat out an infield single.
Then, Anthony Chavez and Alfredo Reyes laid down back-to-back bunts, forcing the Yanks to intentionally walk Adrian Abreu and load the bases for All-Star shortstop Amed Rosario with one out in the 11th.
Rosario was hit by an offering from Staten Island reliever Matt Wotherspoon, forcing home Tharp and helping Brooklyn virtually eliminate the Baby Bombers from playoff contention while maintaining a two-game cushion over the surging Tigers.
“This was huge tonight,” admitted a relieved Gamboa. “We were going all out to win tonight. For us, it was pitching and defense and I’m glad that in that last inning our execution was great.
“We’re just trying to emphasize that the little things, just hitting a ground ball to second base with a runner at third, could have kept us out of extra innings tonight,” he added. “Getting those (bunts down in the 11th) is what won the game for us tonight.”
The last-inning execution wouldn’t have been possible without Brooklyn’s continued brilliance on the mound.
Starter Scarlyn Reyes tossed what Gamboa described as a “masterpiece”, limiting the desperate Baby Bombers to one earned run on three hits with seven strikeouts over seven innings.
Relievers Kelly Secrest, Shane Bay and Brad Wieck, who picked up the win just two nights after surrendering a crushing walk-off homer in Staten Island, did the rest, holding the Yanks to two hits over four scoreless frames.
Now, it’s off to Tri-City, where the Cyclones will send Martires Arias (2-0, 1.10 ERA in three starts) and All-Stars Corey Oswalt and Marcos Molina to the mound in the hopes of nailing down that coveted fourth and final NY-Penn playoff spot.
“We’re two up with five to play and we just have to keep winning,” Gamboa insisted. “We’re in the driver’s seat because if we win, there’s nothing they can do. Staten Island has been mathematically eliminated, Lowell is still in it, but the big one is Connecticut and us.”
While the Cyclones visit Tri-City, the Tigers will be at league-leading Hudson Valley for the next three games before hosting Lowell for their final two contests.
Gamboa, who has spent four decades chasing pennants and playoff spots in Major League-affiliated ball, wants his young team to understand the importance of absorbing as much as it can from these final five games.
“I tell them to enjoy every inning of every game,” he revealed. “This was an exciting win for the guys, but now we have to get ready for Tri-City.
“It’ll be a dogfight.”
This, That and the Other Thing: The Cyclones’ home finale on Sunday against Staten Island may be rendered meaningless if Brooklyn is able to wrap up a playoff spot during its three-game set in Tri-City. But Brooklyn fans will receive their due regardless as MCU Park hosts Fan Appreciation Day at the ballpark with tickets starting at $10. … LF Michael Conforto got a couple of pies in the face following Wednesday’s dramatic walk-off win after going 4-for-5 with two doubles and a run scored to hike his batting average to a sizzling .338. The Cyclones are 25-12 since Conforto arrived on Coney Island on July 19.