CENTRAL ISLIP, NY – Not a single day has passed with the first-place Ducks claiming a losing record. For manager Gary Carter, only slow starts for Lew Ford and Randy Leek had tempered the early-season enthusiasm.
Leek lost his first two starts, allowing nine earned runs in 11 innings while Ford entered Thursday’s contest against Lancaster batting .135. But both deficiencies were fortified last night.
Leek regained his ace form, limiting the visitors to three runs over seven innings in helping the Ducks to a 12-3 victory at Citibank Park. Ford busted out of his early slump, lining two doubles during a seven-run third inning as the Ducks extended its winning streak to five, improving to 9-4 overall in completing the four-game sweep.
“I felt a little better than I had in the past,” said Leek after improving to 1-2. “I worked on my mechanics and was able to get the ball down in the zone for the most part.”
Six doubles in the third inning set a Ducks record for an inning and chased Lancaster starter Jason Scobie with the Barnstormers trailing 8-0. The Ducks tagged Lancaster for nine total extra-base hits.
Ford entered the contest hitless in the series, though the ex-Minnesota Twin started the inning with a double down the leftfield line and sent Scobie to the showers when he came up again and blasted a RBI double over centerfielder Michael Campbell’s head.
“Lou had been struggling with his timing at the plate and he was lunging at balls,” Carter said. “It was a matter of keeping his head still. It was good to see him break out.”
Ford registered just two extra-base hits through his first nine games before matching that total in a single inning. Carter kept Ford in the second spot, batting behind hot-hitting leadoff hitter Ray Navarrete. Ford rewarded that patience by going 2-4 with two RBIS and a run scored while continuing to play a solid centerfield, not making a single error through 10 games.
Leek pitched the Ducks to a fifth consecutive playoff appearance in 2008, going 12-3 with a 3.57 ERA. The Levittown native displayed that efficiency, retiring nine straight after a leadoff single.
In all, the southpaw recorded three strikeouts against zero walks. The Ducks supported Leek by setting a season-high in runs, pounding out 13 hits.
“It was like when a boxer comes out with a right and a left,” Carter said. “We just kept going.”
Every Ducks starter registered at least one base hit by the sixth inning. Johnny Hernandez tied Navarrete for the team lead in homers with two, lifting a sixth-inning solo shot to right to put the Ducks up, 11-2.
Raul Gonzalez continued his torrid start, lacing a hard first-inning single to right to plate Navarrete with the game’s first run. The Ducks soon made it a laugher, sending 11 men to the plate in the third. Gonzalez, who entered as the Ducks leading hitter, drove in his third and fourth runs of the series, adding a third-inning sacrifice fly to deep leftfield after Ford, Ron Davenport and Victor Rodriguez lined base hits to start the inning.
Three straight doubles resulted in three more runs before Ford capped the rally with his second two-bagger in as many at-bats. Lancaster got to within 8-2 in the fourth thanks to Danny Bravo’s solo home run and Adam Shorsher’s run-scoring single.
The Ducks got back those runs via Juan Francia’s RBI single to start a two-run fifth. Michael Campbell hit a solo home run in the Barnstormers half of the seventh, marking its last run against Leek. The Ducks will now head across the Long Island Sound to face division rival Bridgeport in a three-game set starting Friday.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play and use the defense,” Leek said. “It’s nice to have a big lead so you know that if you do make a mistake, it won’t hurt you too bad.”