Cyclones reliever yields game-winning run in bottom of ninth
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
John Mincone squandered LJ Mazzilli's chance for a happy homecoming.
The Cyclones' left-hander reliever yielded two runs, including a game-tying solo homer, in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night at Norwich's Dodd Stadium as the NL All-Stars suffered a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to their AL rivals in the New York-Penn League's annual Late-Summer Classic.
Mazzilli, the son of former Mets great Lee Mazzilli and a Connecticut native, had helped spark the junior circuit to a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth inning.
New York's 2013 fourth-round pick out of the University of Connecticut reached first on an error with two out in the eighth before rounding the bases with the tying run on a series of wild pitches by Staten Island reliever Stefan Lopez.
Batavia's Felix Munoz followed with a clutch RBI single later in the frame as the NL jumped in front.
Jamestown set-up man Roberto Espinosa tossed a 1-2-3 eighth, setting the stage for Mincone, Brooklyn's All-Star southpaw, to close out the win for the NL, which would have given the senior circuit a 5-4 lead in the all-time series.
Only eventual All-Star Game MVP Ryan Huck had other plans, gretting the Huntington, N.Y. native with a blast over the wall in left-center field.
Mincone, making his second straight All-Star appearance, couldn't get out of what turned into a messy finish for the NL unit, managed by Cyclones skipper Rich Donnelly.
Connecticut outfielder Ben Verlander, the 21-year-old brother of Detroit pitching ace Justin Verlander, followed Huck's booming homer with a single to left. When Cesar Valera of State College booted a grounder off the bat of Mahoning Valley's Claudio Bautista, the AL had two on and none out in what proved to be the final frame.
Clearly flustered, Mincone then uncorked a wild pitch to move the runners to second and third before catching a break when Williamsport's Zach Green fielded a grounder and fired home to nail Verlander, temporarily quelling the AL's winning rally.
Hudson Valley's Oscar Hernandez hit a potential double-play grounder to short that Valera pitched to Mazzilli for the second out of the inning, but the former Huskie and future Met couldn't turn two as Bautista came racing home for the walk-off win and ensuing celebration.
Mazzilli, who didn't start the game, gushed prior to the game about what a circuitous rout his budding career has taken.
After serving as batboy at Dodd Stadium when his father was the manager of the Norwich Navigators, LJ went on to a brilliant career at UConn and wound up playing his first professional season in the same organization that drafted his dad four decades ago.
"It's like I've been playing here my whole life," Mazzilli said of the familiar surroundings. "I remember running around with the old players. Bat-boying, shagging flyballs. It's really cool to think about."
Mincone, the backbone of a Brooklyn bullpen that has kept the Cyclones within reach of first place in the McNamara Division virtually all summer, will likely shake off the defeat quicker than other players at this level.
At 24, the former Suffolk County Community College star is the veteran of Brooklyn's young clubhouse, and has been instrumental in helping to develop budding bullpen hurlers like David Wynn, Tim Peterson and Akeel Morris on Coney Island.
With the brief two-day All-Star break behind them, Mincone and Mazzilli can now focus on the drive to get Brooklyn back to the playoffs for the third time in as many seasons under Donnelly.
Trailing first-place Aberdeen by only one game in the tightly packed McNamara standings, the Baby Bums will kick off their stretch run Wednesday night at MCU Park against Hudson Valley before visiting the Renegades on Thursday. After that, the Cyclones begin a critical five-game homestand against Vermont and Staten Island this weekend.
This, That and the Other Thing: RHP Miller Diaz started for the NL squad and yielded a run on two hits with one strikeout in the opening frame. ... RHP Robert Gsellman fanned two and yielded one hit in an inning of scoreless relief. ... RHP John Gant, the fourth Brooklyn hurler to make the NL squad, did not pitch in Tuesday's game. ... Mazzilli's at-bat in the eighth was his lone plate appearance as Batavia's Avery Romero started at second for the NL, going 0-for-3. ... Brooklyn entered the break on a two-game winning streak after Gant tossed six innings of two-hit ball against State College on Saturday and Mazzilli went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs scored in a 9-2 rout of the Spikes on Sunday evening on Surf Avenue. ... Lee Mazzilli attended Tuesday's All-Star Game in Norwich, along with many other members of the Mazzilli clan. ... The Cyclones are responding to last week’s ugly incident outside of MCU Park with a special promotion prior to an Aug. 19 doubleheader. The “Diversity Day” event will feature a re-dedication for the famous statue of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese that was defaced with racist rhetoric, as well as a screening of the film “42”, based on Robinson’s ground-breaking entry into the Major Leagues, later that evening. “The events of last week were both heartbreaking and incomprehensible” said Cyclones General Manager Steve Cohen. “But we are trying to turn the negative and disgusting actions of one person into a night of unity and understanding for an entire community. Over 60 years ago, Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese stood resolute in the face of bigotry and hatred, and in a much smaller way we are trying to do the same thing.”