By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Cyclones right-hander Hansel Robles was informed before his first career playoff start Friday night at Coney Island's MCU Park that he had already been named the Mets' Sterling Award winner as the top player on the Major League team's Class A short-season affiliate.
The stocky 22-year-old Dominican responded by pitching the best game in Cyclones history, which is saying something considering some of his more noteworthy performances earlier this summer.
"I don't think it's been done before, ever," noted Brooklyn manager Rich Donnelly after watching Robles master Hudson Valley en route to a 4-0 victory in the first-ever complete-game shutout in 12 years of Cyclones baseball on Coney Island.
Robles went the full nine while yielding four hits, striking out a career-high 10 Renegades and walking none, giving the Cyclones a leg up in the best-of-3 series before they dropped two games at Dutchess Stadium to fall out of the chase for their first New York-Penn League Championship since 2001. He also gave up one earned run or fewer in all but one of his 13 starts this year.
“If you would have seen him in Spring Training and tried to project him to where we are now, you would have lost a lot of money," added Donnelly, who admitted he and pitching coach Marc Valdes only added Robles to the Cyclones' Opening Day roster as a potential option out of the bullpen. "We thought maybe he could be a long man or a starter."
The hurler from Bonoa, D.R., turned out to be much more than that.
Robles finished the regular season 6-1 with a league-best and team-record 1.11 ERA, ranking fifth on the circuit in strikeouts with 66.
Even more startling was his total domination of opponents during Brooklyn's stretch run to the playoffs as he finished the summer on a dizzying streak of 42 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.
Mixed into that amazing six-start stretch, which includes his playoff gem, Robles flirted with a perfect game before settling for eight one-hit innings against Vermont on Aug. 10.
Though he didn't wind up earning a NY-Penn championship ring for his "Koufaxian" efforts, Robles did pick up some jewelry during the season.
"On Aug. 29 he got married, so hopefully he’s grown up a bit," revealed Donnelly. "You see things in a different light when you first sign, he was probably 16 or 17 years old. He's grown up a lot here this summer."
Robles was asked Friday night whether he was more impressed with his playoff performance or the near-perfecto he tossed against Vermont a month earlier.
“I liked this one better," he said through an interpreter. "I liked the other one, but this one I liked better because I finished strong.”
The good news for the Mets is that Robles is far from finished. He'll likely be pitching at Class A Savannah or Class A Advanced St. Lucie next season in the hopes of paving a path toward the Majors.
Since signing with the organization as a non-drafted free agent in 2008, Robles has gone a combined 17-9 between Brooklyn, Rookie-level Kingsport and two seasons with the Mets' Dominican Summer League affilaite.
His breakthrough campaign in 2012 doubtlessly makes him one of the more attractive pitching prospects for the Mets going forward. He will also be arguably the hardest player to replace in Cyclones history come next summer.
But Brooklyn fans have grown accustomed to watched their favorite ballplayers leave Surf Avenue just as they begin to appreciate them.
Something tells me they'll remember Hansel Robles here long after he's gone.