By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Hansel Robles didn't dare look behind him into the Brooklyn bullpen last Friday night.
The way he was pitching, no one else was bothering to do so either.
The 21-year-old Dominican right-hander, one of four Cyclones hurlers selected to compete in Tuesday night's New York-Penn League All-Star Game in Mahoning Valley, was on the verge of history after tossing 7 2/3 perfect innings against Vermont before an electrified crowd of 7,175 at Coney Island's MCU Park.
"I was ready to throw 50 innings," Robles confessed after Brooklyn pulled out a 1-0 victory over the Lake Monsters, kicking off a three-game sweep that thrust it within one game of first-place Hudson Valley in the ever-tightening McNamara Division race.
Eight fantastic frames was as long as the 5-foot-11, 185-pound hurler was permitted to pitch after surrendering a two-out single to Daniel Roberston during his final inning of work. Robles rebounded from the base knock up the middle by getting Wilfredo Solano on a grounder to second, ending his night and earning a rousing ovation from those who had witnessed perhaps the greatest pitching performance in Cyclones history.
"I never had it in my mind to throw a perfect game," Robles admitted through an interpreter. "If I had the chance, I would have gone nine, but the hit ended my chance to do that."
Three Lake Monsters hurlers — starter Kristopher Hall, Seth Streich and Omar Duran — matched Robles inning for inning before Dimas Ponce started the ninth with a single off Duran (0-1).
Ryan Dull came in and surrendered the eventual game-winning hit to Phillip Evans later in the frame before the Brooklyn shortstop was drenched in Gatorade by his teammates.
“I was just trying to get it done for the team," noted Evans. "I missed a couple of bunts [earlier in the at-bat] there. I had confidence in myself that I wasn’t going to strike out. That was a changeup, it had me off-balance, but I kept my hands through the zone. It felt good man, celebrating with the team. We had a lot of fun out there.”
The fun was just beginning for the Cyclones, who stomped Vermont 6-3 on Saturday and 10-5 on Sunday to stretch their home winning streak to seven games.
After struggling mightily at MCU during the first two months of the campaign, the Baby Bums are heating up at home just in time to make a serious run for their first NY-Penn Championship since sharing the crown with Williamsport following their inaugural 2001 campaign.
With 11 victories in their last 14 games, the Cyclones are playing their best baseball of the summer, but the two-day break for this week's All-Star festivities isn't exactly what manager Rich Donnelly had in mind for his red-hot club.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not a big fan of All-Star Games during the season because they're exhibition games," Donnelly noted after watching his club put up 14 hits in Sunday's rout of Vermont.
While Brooklyn's re-energized lineup has it dreaming of a parade along Surf Avenue next month, Robles and his fellow starters, along with the league's top bullpen, is the main reason the Cyclones are threatening to overtake the Renegades in the division. But Donnelly, who has lamented his team's offensive woes throughout the summer, is glad to see his pitchers get some support.
“For the most part our pitching has been doing it all year," the sage skipper noted. "The last four or five games, the offense has really stepped up."
As for Robles, who will be joined by fellow Brooklyn All-Star pitchers Gabriel Ynoa, John Mincone and Luis Mateo at the "Late-Summer Classic," Friday's gem was a fitting way for him to announce his arrival as a budding stud in the Mets' organization. He struck out seven, did not issue a walk and appeared primed and ready to go as long as it took for the Cyclones to score Friday night.
"I haven't seen a guy go deep into the eighth and dominate a lineup like that," Brooklyn pitching coach Marc Valdes, himself a former major leaguer, told MiLB.com after Robles' breathtaking performance. "He had to mix his pitches and keep them off-balance, and he did that."
"He seems to step it up when he has a good crowd," Valdes added. "When his back is to the wall, he seems to step it up a notch. There have been times when we've needed him to give us a quality start, and he has."
Cyclones closer Tyler Vanderheiden (2-0) wound up working around a hit in the top of the ninth to pick up the win, but the night belonged to Robles, who was ready for a Gatorade bath of his own after his special night on Coney Island.
“That’s the drink that gets you ready and gets you going," Robles said with a smile.
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