NEWARK, NJ— All six Ducks All-Stars stood on the third base line after the pregame introductions before Tuesday night’s game. They were easy to spot, wearing out-of-place red caps on top of the club’s green-and-gray road uniforms.
But there were still plenty of smiles for the team’s four position players and two pitchers who were selected to represent the Ducks for the Liberty Division squad at Newark’s Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium. The Flock entered the four-day break riding momentum, posting an 8-2 record in the past 10 contests to move within three games of first-place Southern Maryland.
With 15 games remaining in the opening half race, Ray Navarrete said the respite will allow the Ducks to finish out the division race strong.
“Our confidence level in the clubhouse is at the highest point we’ve had,” Navarrete said before the game. “Anytime you get days off to rest and heel some injuries is good. It came at the perfect time.
“I really like our chances. We have a lot of special things ahead of us.”
Navarrete was making his second straight All-Star appearance in a Ducks uniform, hitting a two-run third inning home runs as the Liberty Division stormed back for four ninth-inning runs against Freedom Division closer Armando Benitez in a 7-5 come-from posted victory. After being a man without a defensive position the last two years, Navarrete moved to third base at the start of the season, going to a position in which he had little experience.
Manning the hot corner, Navarrete committed 10 errors but has looked more comfortable at the position. The former Mets prospect continued his torrid offense hitting, belting a team-best 10 home runs while driving in 34 runs.
“I’m grateful to be here today,” Navarrete said. “Third base has been a huge adjustment for me. I still have a long way to go before I turn into a good third baseman but it means a great deal to me.”
Earning an All-Star selection is an honor in any professional league, though Navarrete said he hopes he won’t have a chance to accomplish the feat a third consecutive year when the Ducks host the event in 2010.
“All of us, this is not our ultimate goal to continue to be in this league,” Navarrete said. “But if a lot of us don’t get the opportunity to get signed, this is the league in which we have to show our talents. Anytime our peers, coaches or media votes us in, you have to take pride in it because this is a great league with a lot of exceptional talent.”
Catcher John Pachot and rightfielder Estee Harris were the other Ducks to start the game while outfielder Johnny Hernandez entered for Harris in right in the top of the sixth. Pachot went 1-2 while Harris and Hernandez went a combined 0-5.
Joe Valentine, the club’s regular set-up man, entered in his customary eighth-inning and allowed a leadoff infield single before getting a strikeout. Trailing 4-3, Liberty manager Butch Hobson then called on Ducks closer Bill Simas.
“It’s funny how it worked out,” Valentine said. “I knew I was
going to face only one or two hitters and he [Simas] was going to come in because they wanted to get everyone into the game in front of the scouts.
“This is of course a more laid-back situation. For everybody promoting this area to get the fans back out here, I thought it was a great event.”
Simas induced a ground ball that first baseman Vito Chiaravolloti couldn’t field. The play was ruled a hit and put runners on the corners. Simas forced a slowly hit ball but it went far enough to allow Tom Collaro to score on the groundout, extending the Freedom Division’s lead to 5-3 heading into the ninth.
Before Benitez’s breakdown, Liberty manager Butch Hobson called on Simas in the eighth just to get him into the game in front of 20 scouts. Simas ended up needing to pitch the ninth, turning a five-out effort into a win. Hobson said Simas was OK with the extra workload and gave him permission for the extended duty. The Ducks do not resume play until Thursday, giving Simas an extra day of rest.
“He was fine. I just wanted to make sure I got him in the game,” Hobson said. “I don’t want to see anybody get hurt. With eight pitchers, you want to make sure everybody gets their opportunity.
Notes: QuackerJack, who has lost every single race at Citibank Park when he goes up against children, finally was able to claim victory. The Ducks mascot defeated a field of other Atlantic League mascots in a race around the bases before the top of the seventh.