By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Jayce Boyd, all of 22 years old, sounded like the oldest, wisest player in the Cyclones' locker room following Friday night's playoff-opening 4-0 victory over McNamara Division champion Hudson Valley before 2,824 fans in what turned out to be Brooklyn's final game at MCU Park this season.
"You never look ahead in baseball," said the Cyclones' first baseman and former Florida State Seminole.
Though it's hard to blame the youngest Cyclones team ever for feeling enthused after taking Game 1 of the best-of-3 series, and improving to a gaudy 8-3 against the Renegades this summer, Brooklyn's second-year manager Rich Donnelly knew all too well that in baseball, momentum only lasts as long as the next "three-run home run or starting pitcher".
After watching staff ace and Sterling Award-winner Hansel Robles pitch the first nine-inning complete-game shutout in Cyclones history in the opener, Brooklyn got eliminated from the race for the New York-Penn League championship with back-to-back losses, 8-1 on Sunday afternoon and 2-0 on Monday night, to again fall short of capturing the Mets' Class A short-season affiliate's first title since the inaugural 2001 campaign.
Heartbreaking as it was to see Stefan Sabol strike out against Hudson Valley reliever Ryan Garton for the final out of the campaign, the Cyclones certainly gave our fair borough another memorable ride during the 76-game grind of a regular season.
From boasting the best pitching staff and bullpen on the 14-team circuit, to developing potential future Mets like Boyd, center fielder Brandon Nimmo, shortstop Phillip Evans and four All-Star pitchers, spearheaded by the amazing Robles, the Baby Bums proved as resilient and entertaining as their 66-year-old manager, who certainly deserves a third year along the third-base line on Coney Island, if he wants it.
"You just go out and play, that's all," was Donnelly's mantra after Robles tamed the Renegades to the tune of four hits with a season-high 10 strikeouts and no walks in arguably the best pitching performance in franchise history, or at least since the 22-year-old flirted with a perfect game against Vermont on Aug. 10.
"I'm a worry wart about everything," Donnelly conceded. "We have a long way to go."
Unfortunately, the Cyclones only got as far as a round-trip visit to Dutchess Stadium, where the Renegades, clearly peeved after being mastered by Robles in Game 1, came out swinging Sunday afternoon.
Hudson Valley catcher Luke Maile went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI to pace a 12-hit attack as Hudson Valley struck back with an easy win in Game 2, with Eudy Pena's solo homer accounting for the Cyclones' final run of the year.
In Game 3, Taylor Guerrieri, Brandon Henderson (1-0) and Garton combined to put the Cyclones' season to rest, holding one of the NY-Penn's worst offenses to one hit en route to blanking Brooklyn.
Evans, who hit a team-best .333 in the playoffs, delivered a single with one out in the third, preventing the Cyclones from being no-hit in their biggest game of the season.
"Our offense is just bad," Donnelly admitted during the final weeks of the regular season.
Last year, the Cyclones also advanced to the first round of the playoffs, but were blanked, 1-0, by eventual NY-Penn champion Staten Island in a third and decisive game. In 2010, Brooklyn reached the NY-Penn Finals before Wally Backman's squad fell to Tri-City in two tough games.
Beginning Tuesday night, Tri-City and Hudson Valley will battle for the league championship, leaving Brooklyn and its loyal fan base -- tops in the NY-Penn for the 12th straight year -- to wait yet again for next year.
"It's a great atmosphere right now in the clubhouse, no doubt about that," Guerrieri told MiLB.com after holding the Cyclones scoreless over the first four frames of the clincher despite issuing five walks. "But we're looking to win again and take a championship home. Hopefully [our strategy] is just to hit the ball and score a lot of runs, because our pitching is going to take care of the rest."
The Cyclones employed a similar strategy throughout the summer, only their hitting never quite caught up with their pitching.
In the season finale, Luis Cessa (0-1) held the Renegades to two runs on four htis over six solid innings, but Brooklyn batters went 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position and left six on base.
All-Star hurler Luis Mateo (0-1) was reached for two earned runs over five innings in Game 2, but the Cyclones managed just one run in the series after pushing four across the plate in the first two innings Friday night in Brooklyn.
This, That and the Other Thing: Donnelly and the Cyclones extended one of the more impressive streaks in pro baseball this summer. By finishing with a record of 45-31, not including a 1-2 mark in the playoffs, the Baby Bums finished at least at or above .500 for the 12th straight year. The Cyclones are one of only four teams in all of baseball that can make that claim along with the New York Yankees, Arizona League Giants and Elizabethton Twins. ... Brooklyn led the NY-Penn with a .977 fielding percentage, committing just 67 errors in 76 games. ... Nimmo led all outfielders with a .994 fielding percentage, making one error in 158 chances this summer. ... Brooklyn ended the season with five pitchers in the top 15 in the NY-Pennin ERA. Mateo, Robles, Gabriel Ynoa, Cessa, and Rainy Lara all posted ERAs below 3.00. ... Lara tied Lowell’s William Cuevas with a league-high eight wins. Lara had 77 strikeouts, second only to teammate Mateo, who finished with 85. ... Sabol's 11-game hitting streak was the longest by any Cyclone this season. ... The Cyclones ranked last in the league with a .225 (155-690) average with runners in scoring position.