By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Tri-City ValleyCats are on the verge of celebrating the Stedler Division crown right in the heart of Coney Island.
Unless, of course, the Cyclones can do something about it over the next two games.
Owners of the best record in the New York-Penn League and leading their division by a healthy 15 1/2 games over the second-place Connecticut Tigers, the ValleyCats (44-17) reduced their magic number to capture the first of the four available playoff spots on the 14-team circuit to one with a 5-2 victory at MCU Park Tuesday night before a crowd of 6,378.
That means any combination of the ValleyCats winning a single game, or the Tigers losing one, over the next two night will result in a party for the visitors.
Brooklyn (37-24) fell for the third time in four meetings with Tri-City this season after dropping two of three in Troy, N.Y. during its recently completed six-game road trip. The Baby Bums' return to Surf Avenue got off to a good enough start as starter Rainy Lara (7-2), tied for the league lead in wins, was staked to an early 2-0 advantage in the third inning, when catcher Nelfi Zapata followed Juan Gamboa's leadoff double with his second homer of the summer.
The blast cleared the left-field wall and put the Cyclones in position to remain three games behind first-place Hudson Valley (41-20) in the McNamara Division race, but Tri-City came roaring back with four runs off Lara in the top of the fifth, denying the Dominican right-hander his sixth consecutive win. Brooklyn fell four games back of the Renegades, who did the ValleyCats a favor by blanking Connecticut 2-0.
The Cyclones, who lead Batavia by four games for the NY-Penn's lone wild-card spot, will host the 'Cats again Wednesday and Thursday night, hoping they can avoid watching Tri-City celebrate in front of the Brooklyn faithful again.
In 2010, Tri-City bested Wally Backman's Cyclones in two games, including a 5-1 triumph in the clincher at MCU Park, to grab the league championship, something Brooklyn has been without since sharing the crown with Williamsport during its inaugural campaign in our fair borough in 2001.
Two summers ago, the 'Cats were the upstart wild card that snuck into the postseason and spoiled the Cyclones' party after Brooklyn ran away with the McNamara and posted a league-best 50 wins. Even if the Cyclones aren't able to stop the 'Cats from clinching in Brooklyn over the next two days, they will likely have an opportunity to do so in September.
If current standings hold, the Cyclones and 'Cats would meet in an opening-round best-of-3 playoff series, with the winner advancing to the NY-Penn Finals. Judging from their performance against Tri-City thus far, that doesn't look like a good proposition for Brooklyn. But in the playoffs, one key play or call can change the course of an entire season as Backman's Cyclones learned two summers ago.
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This, That and the Other Thing: RHP Paul Sewald finally had his streak of scoreless innings stopped in Saturday's 4-1 loss at Vermont. After going 20 2/3 innings over 12 appearances without allowing a run to begin his pro career, the University of San Diego product was reached for two runs on three hits over two innings by the Lake Monsters, upping his once-perfect ERA to 0.79. RHP Logan Taylor currently owns a 13 2/3 innings scoreless streak over his first 10 outings for the Cyclones. Taylor did yield an unearned run in his last appearance at Vermont on Sunday. ... SS Phillip Evans had a pair of hits Tuesday night and is 5-for-8 over his last two games. ... Zapata's two-run homer Tuesday night gave the Cyclones 36 long balls for the season, just one shy of Tri-City for the league lead. ... At .233, Brooklyn's team batting average is tied with Connecticut for the worst in the NY-Penn. ... The 'Cats boast a league-best 24-5 road record this summer.