Atlantic League Champions
LONG ISLAND DUCKS: The REVOLUTION Was Too Much! The Webbed Spikes' Bats Go AWOL.
THE LONG ISLAND DUCKS WERE DONE IN BY WHAT THEY DID BEST ALL SEASON.
Mike Loree gave the Ducks everything a team could ask of their ace pitcher this season. Then Mike Loree gave his team a little more. Upon having his contract purchased by the Pirates organization late in August, he requested that he be able to return to Long Island in order to finish the great season he and his Duck team mates started together. With permission granted, he returned to become the team's regular season MVP after already setting a new franchise record for wins in a season. He wound up being by far the League's dominant pitcher in almost every category. And oddly enough, he didn't make the Ducks' rotation coming out of Spring. Almost by default, he was given a second chance to crack the rotation when Lenny DiNardo's contract was sold as the season commenced.
Sunday, making his final start of 2011, Mike Loree emptied out his tank for the team pitching as deeply as he could on short rest. After 100 pitches, he departed on the winning side after six innings of Game Four of the Championship Series. It wasn't his smoothest start as he surrendered seven hits with few strikeouts by his standards. He fought through the first five innings before finally retiring the side in order in the sixth. But he did limit the York Revolution to one run. That made one run allowed over 13 innings pitched in two appearances for him this series. But through six innings, all the Ducks' line-up could muster were two runs. However, Mike Loree ensured the slim lead would be good enough....again; as he needed to shut-out York over seven innings in Game One after the Ducks could only secure one run in that game. But on this day, the Ducks' fortunes only lasted as long as Mike remained on the mound.
On York starter Chris Schumacher? He was nearly as stingy against Long Island as he was in Game One when he and Mike Loree last squared off against each other. As a matter of fact, Schumacher recorded one more out than Loree did and gave up four less hits than Long Island's ace this game.
The Ducks came across their marginal lead in rather un-formidable fashion. Their first run came in the third inning. After a base hit, Kraig Binick advanced to third on Kennard Jones' double. Binick then scored on a passed ball. But the Revolution tied the game at one in the bottom half of the inning. The Ducks then went back up with a run in the top of the fourth when John Rodriguez scored from third on a put-out to first base.
The situation remained thus; through six full innings in Game Four of the Atlantic League Championship Series, the Ducks held a precariously slim 2-1 lead with three innings now standing between them and successfully staving off elimination and forcing an all-deciding Game Five.
Then, for a unit the Ducks relied on with supreme confidence all season long; as if reluctantly; the Ducks placed the balance of this crucial game into the hands of their bullpen who incidentally had been getting taxed and tattered over the last three games; and the last two in particular. All Mike Loree could do for the Ducks then, in a season in which he had done so much, was wait around and see if his team mates could hold on; or better yet, add to their lead.
For the seventh inning, Bubbie Buzachero was called upon to man the hill, and immediately put the tying run in scoring position when the first batter he faced slammed a double that bounced one hop off the wall. The very next batter; Jose Herrera; drag bunted safely towards first base as Bubbie Buzachero fell down in his attempt to field the ball. First and third with no outs came upon the Ducks quickly. And I guess you can say they did well to limit the damage. The Ducks allowed a run to score for sake of completing a double play. But the game was now tied at two runs apiece. Bubbie Buzachero struck out the last batter of the seventh, looking.
The eighth inning awaited with both teams locked in a 2-2 tie. But only one team was in a position to bear the loss. The Ducks needed to win the final two innings of this contest in order to force another game on Monday. Jon Hunton, the strikeout pitcher signed late in the regular season; who was brought in to replace Bubbie Buzachero as the team's closer; was tasked with pitching Long Island's two most important innings of the year and with hopes they wouldn't be the Ducks' last.
He couldn't even get through one.
By rule of thumb, when you walk the first batter of any inning, the odds say that runner usually scores. Jon Hunton did just that, and the runner did indeed score. But what the Ducks' hadn't anticipated with that lead-off base on balls, was that just beyond the hill Jon Hunton stood upon, a full frontal charge by the York Revolution awaited the Ducks' and their new closer.
An inning? Jon Hunton didn't even record an out. After allowing a walk to the lead-off batter; a single; and one hit-by-pitch later, the bases were loaded. A single made the score 3-2 York with the bases still loaded. Jon Hutnton then walked his second batter to force in another run making it 4-2 York. And that was the end of Jon Hunton's night, and unfortunate to say, the Ducks' hopes for ending their season with a championship.
Jeremy Hill was brought in to relieve Jon Hunton of his nightmare, and see if he could stop York's breakout. The infield-fly-rule was invoked against the first batter he faced. A single by old pro Jose Herrera made the score 5-2 and kept the bases loaded still. A RBI sacrifice fly and an out later, the score stood at 6-2 in York's favor.
There was a run for the Ducks in their top half of the ninth, thanks to the former York Revolution player and 2010 Long Island acquisition; Matt Esquivel. He doubled to drive home J.R. House with Long Island's third and final run of the game. If it were not for Matt Esquivel; who played with the York Revolution in 2008-2009; the Ducks would have had virtually no offense at all this series.
In Long Island's last at-bat against what was clearly becoming a successful Revolution, York tabbed their strikeout specialist; Matt DeSalvo; with finishing off the Liberty Division Champs. The Ducks were held to just the one run in the ninth and therefore left no need for the Revolution to take a turn at bat. The game ended with a 6-3 final score. The series was over. Long Island's Battle in York was done.
The York Revolution repeated as Atlantic League Champions. They received and celebrated the rising of their trophy in front of the home crowd. For the second consecutive season, Cannonball Charlie, got to go Boom! - on the last day of the Atlantic League season. Concluding their fifth year of operations with a second consecutive title, congratulations go out to a great Revolution team; a fine organization supported by great York fans; for accomplishing so much; and doing it so well; in a very short time.
And for the gamely Long Island Ducks, a long bus ride home lay ahead.
Could things have gone differently for the Ducks if they hadn't lost Mike Parisi and Shane Youman from the starting rotation earlier this season?
Now that the season and the Finals are complete, lets first deal with answering yes to that question. With Mike Parisi and Shane Youman still here, perhaps Josh Banks doesn't get kicked around like a Bruce Lee practice dummy in Game Two of the divisional series, and in Game Two of the championship round. Maybe one of those two former Duck hurlers follow-up Mike Loree's two gems with wins in Game Two of either series. Maybe they don't give up ten runs in two playoff starts like Josh Banks did. And perhaps with them around, the bullpen doesn't get as taxed as it did over Games Two through Four.
Bob Zimmermann pitched gamely in both his Game Three playoff starts. He won his first round game and battled back to a no-decision in Game Three of the Finals. But with Josh Banks preceding him, the bullpen was pressed into very early work each time, and then still needed to take over for Zimmermann the following night. Long Island's dilemma of the, even still yet, next day's questionable starter after Zimmermann, always loomed over the Ducks' heads as well. The Ducks starting rotation wasn't nearly as deep and reliable than they were with Parisi and Youman complementing Mike Loree. It wound up compromising the bullpen. It also took an initial rain-out of Game Four to help the Ducks along and providing them a chance to have their ace pitcher stave off elimination on short rest.
But that doesn't account for Jon Hunton's eighth inning meltdown in Game Four. And there's no disguising it; two walks; a hit-by-pitch; and two hits; facing five batters, is just that for a closer; A Melt-Down. He was not pressed into overtime like his pen mates were over the series. Jon Hunton made a save appearance in Game One. Game Four was his second appearance of the series. When you look at the job York's Matt DeSalvo did in Game Three; shutting-down the Ducks for three innings; nine batters; with four strikeouts; while making his first appearance in the series, there is no defense for Jon Hunton being too strong; and thus his lack of control during that fateful eighth inning.
Bubbie Buzachero had the bad habit of making the final innings of a game too interesting; to the point Long Island brought in Jon Hunton after losing patience with Buzachero, and also because opportunity to sign the hard thrower presented itself. He was thrust into the closers role as Long Island effectively stripped Buzachero of that job description. In his few appearances for the team this year, things worked out well. In this game? The results were for all interested parties to witness.
But that doesn't explain the Ducks getting shut-out in Josh Banks' Game Two start. The Ducks lost Game Two of the Championship Series 9-0. The score could have ended 1-0; the result still remains. After winning Game One 1-0, the Ducks were authors of exactly one run after two games.
After all, the tangible problem with Long Island over the course of the Championship Series was a lack of hitting; any kind of hitting. There was no consistent hitting; no timely hitting; no clutch hitting; much less hitting for any power. York flexed far more muscle in that regard with five home runs in the series to Long Island's one. What had proven to be a most formidable offense in the Atlantic League over the entire regular season and through the first round of playoffs, suddenly, mysteriously, went AWOL.
In four games, the Ducks were outscored twenty-five runs to ten. Strip the Ducks of a five run outburst in the fifth inning of Game Three, and you can see the power outage was much more severe than just a margin of twenty-five runs against ten. In thirty-six innings played over four games, the Ducks were held scoreless in thirty of those innings. And of the other five innings in which they did score, all they could manage was one run each time.
So does the 2011 Long Island Ducks season end with Duck minded people asking themselves the proverbial - "What If?"
What if Mike Parisi and Shane Youman were still pitching for this team? It's fair to ask. What if the Ducks could have just found their stroke; or not have lost it at all? That is a more fairer question to ask.
The Duck bats were stymied by Chris Schumacher twice; Lorenzo Barcelo; and Jino Gonzalez. At no time in this series did the Ducks ever have to face York's ace pitcher; Corey Thurman. York's rotation after the Divisional round worked out that way. In the four games of a championship series, the Revolution ace was never really needed.
And the defining moment of the series goes to a York Pitcher as well. Matt DeSalvo's three inning Long Island shutdown in Game Three knocked-out what appeared to be a mighty Ducks awakening from their two game plus old slumber. DeSalvo took any momentum the Ducks may have felt surging through their veins; and stopped them cold.
It's a shame the Ducks should lose this championship. They had the best over-all record in the League and won their division title in both halves of the season. It was a year filled with milestones for players like Ray Navarrete, and milestones for the organization itself; like welcoming their five-millionth fan to the park.
Regardless of Sunday's result in York, Pennsylvania, following the Long Island Ducks this summer in this blog has been my unconditional pleasure. I hope I represented the Long Island Ducks fairly; and and for their fans; appropriately; - or was met with your fan interested approval.
To readers of THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE, thanks for taking time out to read me. To the Long Island Ducks, thanks for a great season and a lot of fun.