All-Star right-hander's gem gives Brooklyn top spot in McNamara
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Though he was selected, John Gant didn't get a chance to make an appearance in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game earlier this month.
The 21-year-old right-hander, however, shined brightest on the biggest stage when the Brooklyn Cyclones need him most Wednesday night at MCU Park.
Gant tossed just the fourth complete game in Cyclones history, spinning a one-hitter in a 1-0 victory over Tri-City that thrust Brooklyn into sole possession of first place for the first time this season before a crowd of 4,820 on Coney Island.
Gant, who improved to 6-3 with a 2.33 ERA this summer, retired the first 17 ValleyCats he faced before Chan Moon singled with two out in the sixth inning.
The Savannah, Ga., native responded to the clean line drive into right field by getting the final 11 outs without much incident, working around a leadoff walk in the ninth by inducing a game-ending double play off the bat of Michael Martinez.
The Mets' 21st-round pick in the 2011 Draft struck out six en route to his fifth win in his last six outings, needing only 91 pitches to toss Brooklyn's first complete game since Hansel Robles accomplished the feat in the opening game of last year's playoffs.
According to Gant, the gameplan for Wednesday night's gem was simple as he relied on the two pitches which have made him one of the Cyclones' most reliable pitchers during their late-season ascent to the top of the division.
"I didn't throw a single curveball," Gant told MiLB.com. "The fastball and the changeup kept working, and I like to keep a rhythm going if I get in one."
Having watched fellow NY-Penn All-Stars Miller Diaz and Robert Gsellman put up dominant performances on Friday and Saturday night -- the duo combined for 24 strikeouts over 15 fantastic frames -- Gant admitted that he was eager to throw a masterpiece of him own.
Especially with first place on the line as the Baby Bums surge into the final week of the regular season.
"We've got a pretty competitive group of pitchers and that's one of the keys for our success," said Gant, who is in line to take the ball again during the Cyclones' season-ending series in Tri-City next week. "We're competing on the field and we're competing with each other. Everybody wants to be the best. It's good competition.
"It means something now because we're running for first place.," he told the Minors' official website. "We're just trying to clinch and go to the playoffs."
Of course, Gant's epic performance could have gone in vain if Brooklyn didn't dent the scoreboard.
The Cyclones put their lone run up in the bottom of the sixth as Anthony Chavez led off with an infield single, took second on an errant pickoff attempt by ValleyCats stater Kyle Westwood, advanced to third on Eris Peguero's bunt base hit and scurried home when Gavin Cecchini hit into a force play.
Aberdeen, which had managed to maintain a slim lead over Brooklyn for the better part of the past month, dropped a 7-3 decision at Lowell on Wednesday to fall a half-game behind the Cyclones. The IronBirds will visit MCU Park this weekend for a huge two-game set that will likely decide which one of those teams reaches the playoffs.
But first, the Cyclones (36-32) are slated to host last-place Staten Island on Thursday night before visiting the Yankees on Friday evening.
Though they technically remain one game behind Aberdeen (34-31) in the loss column, the Baby Bums finally have destiny in their own hands after watching the scoreboard the past two months during their steady climb out of the McNamara cellar.
Apparently, Gant is donning some additional facial hair in the hopes that it will bring the Cyclones good fortune in their pursuit of a fourth consecutive playoff berth, and third in as many seasons under manager Rich Donnelly.
"I had a beard going and I shaved and I left it, just to see if it would be lucky," he said. "We got hot, it's staying. As long as we stay hot, it's staying on my lip."
This, That and the Other Thing: RHP Diaz (5-2, 2.22 ERA) was slated to take the ball against the Yankees on Thursday night after allowed three hits over seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts in last Friday's 10-2 victory over Vermont. ... Robles' complete game came on Sept. 7, 2012 against the Hudson Valley Renegades. Unfortunately, the Cyclones lost the next two games of the best-of-3 opening-round playoff series. ... RHP Gsellman, the reigning NY-Penn Pitcher of the Week, will likely get the call for the Cyclones' final meeting of the summer with the Yankees on Saturday night in Staten Island, where the 20-year-old California native took the loss in Brooklyn's season opener. ... 2B LJ Mazzilli went 1-for-3 on Wednesday night, and is hitting a team-best .299. ... Brooklyn's 2.66 team ERA ranks second in the league behind State College (2.63). ... SS Cecchini, who struggled at the plate and battled through injury for the first two months of the season, is hitting a blistering .340 (33-for-97) in August with five doubles, 10 RBIs and nine runs scored. He drove in a run in each of the Cyclones' three games against the ValleyCats this week. ... Saturday's series opener against Aberdeen will also be Military Appreciation Day at MCU Park. Tickets will be free for military personnel. for more information, call 718-812-9459.