Sunday, September 17, 2006

Eastern League Champions!!!!

They wouldn't put it on a message voard if it wasn't true

The Portland Sea Dogs won their first-ever Eastern League championship with an 8-5 victory over the Akron Aeros on Sunday afternoon. Devern Hansack was masterful for eight innings on the mound, allowing three runs while striking out 8 and not walking any batters and cruising to the victory. The Aeros scored two runs in the 9th for the third day in a row, but this time the Sea Dogs had a safe five-run cushion and held on for the victory.


The Sea Dogs took control of this game early, with four run rallies in both the second and third innings. Following Saturday's game, in which the top of the order did all the damage, this afternoon it was the 5-9 hitters leading the way. Chris Durbin, Bryan Myrow and David Bacani each scored two runs, with Myrow striking a two-run homer in the second and Bacani drawing two walks and scoring from second with aggressive baserunning on Jacoby Ellsbury's infield single in the second inning. Shortstop Keoni De Renne struck the decisive blow with bases-loaded triple in the bottom of the third. The Sea Dogs took advantage of one of the "facts of life" of minor league baseball, wherein Akron ace Adam Miller (15-6, 2.75 in the regular season) had reached an innings limit set by the Indians and was not allowed to pitch the finale. The Sea Dogs took advantage of replacement starter Ronald "Bear" Bay, who allowed 8 hits and three walks in just three innings pitched. Reliever J.D. Martin was nearly perfect in relief, surrendering just one walk while striking out six in four innings pitched.

The crowd was much more subdued than the prior two evenings. Friday and Saturday nights featured large, festive crowds anticipating a Sea Dogs championship. However it appears that the heartbreaking nature of the two Portland losses took the enthusiasm out of the crowd, and there was a much smaller turnout this afternoon, with an announced attendance of 3,937. Combined with the big early lead opened up by the Sea Dogs, the atmosphere resembled more of a typical midsummer game than a playoff contest, at least until the patented last-inning rally. After that it was party time.

Hoisting the trophy.

Brandon Moss was presented with the MVP trophy. Moss had a quiet game five, with a single, a walk, and reaching on an error, but he had five homers and 10 RBI for the playoffs, including three home runs in this series. Hansack, who had two wins in the finals and allowed just three runs on 11 hits (with no walks and 14 K's) would have been anther fine choice for the trophy.


Another Heartbreaking Loss

For the second consecutive night, the Portland Sea Dogs bullpen gave up two runs in the 9th inning to send the Akron Aeros to victory in the EL Championship series. All the marbles will be decided this afternoon at 1:00 p.m.

The Sea Dogs had a nice rally from a 4-0 deficit, led by two more home runs by Brandon Moss, who now has 5 HR and 10 RBI in the postseason. Moss, who turned 23 yesterday, has been a man posessed. Unfortunately, so has Aeros 2B Brandon Pinckney, who had his second consecutive four-hit game, and drove home the tying run in the top of the 9th with a single that sent leadoff hitter Trevor Crowe to third base and set up Ryan Goleski's game-winning sacrifice fly.

The late-inning collapse was disappointing, but it was equally disappointing that a few mistakes by Portland earlier in the game were equally costly. A potential rally was quashed in the second when Luis Jimenez channeled the spirit of Kevin Millar and was thrown out by about 20 feet in trying to advance on a Dusty Brown single to left field. In the third inning, Portland second baseman David Bacani dropped Crowe's popup, which resulted in a two-base error and set up an RBI single for Goleski. In the 4th, old friend Jared "the Wicket" Sandberg hit a pop fly to right that either Bacani or Jimenez might have caught had they not collided. One hit later, #9 hitter Wyatt Toregas hit a three-run blast over the left field wall for a 4-0 lead.

And while I don't want to get into the habit of second-guessing the manager, there were a couple of quirky moves that I don't necessarily agree with. First is the handling of the bullpen. For the second night in a row, Todd Claus removed a pitcher who had thrown two effective, and very economical innings to bring someone else in for the 9th. On Friday night, it was Barry Hertzler who had retired the Aeros on 16 pitches who was removed in favor of Brett Evert, who proceeded to allow hits to the first three batters he faced. Last night, Kyle Jackson threw 17 pitches to retire five batters (six outs) before Claus brought in Hertzler in the 9th. Hertzler got ahead of #8 batter Alex Ochoa, then threw four straight balls for a walk. After Ochoa advanced on a ground out, Claus ordered a walk of leadoff hitter Crowe, which served to both put the lead run on base and bring up pistol-hot Brandon Pinckney. As reported above, the move backfired.

It's too bad that the Sea Dogs lost a game that they by all rights should have won, but they have one final chance this afternoon at 1:00 p.m. I'm going to that one, too, but I've changed my luck with box seats in Section 110. Portland's luck is going to change, too. Staff ace Dervern Hansack will be on the mound for the Sea Dogs. Hope to see you there!


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Sweep bid falls short

About two feet short, to be more precise. That's how close "L'il Papi" Luis Jimenez came to emulating his namesake and sending the Sea Dogs to victory on Friday night. Jimenez hit a towering fly ball on a 3-2 pitch from Akron Aeros pitcher Tony Sipp to the deepest part of Hadlock Field, only to see Aeros center fielder Trevor Crowe reel it in right in front of the 400 foot marker. Jimenez was attempting to save the day after the Sea Dogs allowed two runs in the top of the 9th and send Portland to its first-ever Eastern League championship. Following Chris Durbin's strikeout, Akron had a 6-4 victory and fans were sent to the ticket offices to buy seats to tonight's game four.

The game was hardly an thing of beauty, featuring five errors, three hit batsmen and 22 men left on base. Neither starting pitcher made it through the fifth inning, and the Akron bullpen gave away a lot of free baserunners with wild pitching to allow the Sea Dogs to crawl back to a 4-4 tie, before Brett Evert returned the favor and the lead in the 9th. However, the stands were packed (a Sea Dogs playoff record attendance of 7,195) and vocal, and a true playoff atmosphere persisted. Brandon Moss hit his third homer of the playoffs and added an RBI single to lead Portland's offense, while Akron was paced by second baseman Brandon Pinkney (4 hits, 2 runs) and DH Brian Barton (3 hits, 2 RBI, 2 stolen bases).

Game 4 is tonight at 6:00 pm. I'm off to the game shortly, otherwise I'd have a more complete post for Game 3.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Dogs Grasping for the Golden Ring

The Sea Dogs are one win away from their first Eastern League championship, having defeated the tough Akron Aeros in both games at their home stadium. Now the Sea Dogs return to Portland and Hadlock Field, where they will have three opportunities to win one more game for the title. I'll be at Game 3 tonight, and hoping they can close out the sweep. I'm playing the rest of the series by ear.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

EL Playoffs - Dogs defeat Dinosaur.

Dobies pitches, Kottaras catches

Good news - I was able to go to a Sea Dogs game, and I have the opportunity to write about it. Unfortunately my busy schedule has me neglecting this and my other blogs lately, for which I apologize, because I don't enjoy having orphan blogs out there. I have been to a few games lately, but never found the time to write about most of them.

Tonight, however, I was able to attend game three of the EL North playoff between the Sea Dogs and the Trenton Thunder. Trenton, the Yankee's AA affiliate (and therefore top rival for the Sea Dogs) captured the EL North regular season title, setting up a rematch-in-reverse of last year's playoff, in which the Sea Dogs enjoyed the home field advantage. Portland managed a split in Trenton, which gives them the chance to win the series on their own field.

Minor league playoff games are, somewhat paradoxically, usually not well attended. The reason for this, I believe, is twofold. Number one, kids are back in school. Number two, you can't really plan for a playoff game until fairly late. It's easy to look at the regular season schedule and plan a few games that are convenient. For the playoffs, you have to be available on short notice. Often the Sea Dogs will play to a full house through the summer, then be left with a half-full stadium in the playoffs.

Not so tonight, however. In addition to the usual Yankees / Red Sox rivalry, word came that Yankees star outfielder Hideki Matsui would be continuing his injury rehab in Portland. "Godzilla," as he is known, has been out four months after injuring his wrist in a game against the Red Sox in May. Because no other Yankee farm club continues to play, Trenton is the only place for him to rehab. His appearance drove a large gate (6,157, the second-largest playoff crowd in Sea Dogs history), and there were more than a few fans dressed in Yankee regalia roaming Hadlock Field.


Matsui played DH and batted fourth. There was a loud mixture of cheers and boos when Matsui first stepped to the plate in the top of the first, and he was retired on a solid line drive to second base. The boos got louder as the game went along, but that was the last time Matsui would be retired, as he collected a solid single along with two walks on the night. He didn't figure in any of the scoring, however. Not for the Thunder anyway. Matsui's appearance in the lineup caused a domino effect that resulted in hulking, slugging first baseman
Shelly Duncan playing in left field. Duncan's obvious discomfort with the position contributed to Li'l Papi's eighth inning double that brought home Brandon Moss with the eventual winning run in Portland's 5-4 victory. The Sea Dogs now lead the series 2-1.

It looked like a slugfest at first. The Sea Dogs had three runs and a man on second before starting pitcher Matt Childers recorded an out. Childers settled down and allowed just one more run in 6.2 innings pitched. Moss and Jacoby Ellsbury hit identical shots into the RF Pavilion seats for home runs in the first and second innings, respectively. New Sea Dogs catcher George Kottaras, who was received from the Padres in the David Wells trade, made his Hadlock debut a successful one with an RBI double in the first preceding Moss' homer. In fact, the top four in the lineup (Ellsbury, Kottaras, Moss and Jimenez) combine to go 6-14 with all five runs scored and RBI, two walks, three doubles and two homers on the night. The rest of the lineup was 2-16 with a double.

Andrew Dobies started for the Sea Dogs, and was effective if not overpowering. The Thunder had men on base all night against him - he allowed 7 hits and 2 walks in 5 IP - but he managed to allow only two runs to cross the plate on mostly soft-hit balls in the second inning. Dobies is a stereotypical junk lefty - not a lot of heat but he throws strikes and keeps batters off balance with a high-80's fastball and a bunch of offspeed stuff. He did have a nice strikout of Ruiz on what looked like three cutters in the dirt. Edgar "El Guapo Jr." Martinez made things intresting in the 9th, allowing two runs, but got Ruiz on a flyout with the tying runner at second base and Matui on deck to end the game.

I won't be able to attend the Saturday game, but if the Dogs win the series I hope to catch a game or two of the finals next week.