STATEN ISLAND – The sixth annual New York-Penn League All-Star Game produced several unexpected moments inside the Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George on Tuesday night. While the National League affiliates, paced by a parade of first-place Brooklyn Cyclones, were deemed the favorite because of its collective power, it was both the shut-down pitching of American League pitchers and clutch at-bats by five Connecticut Tigers in the eighth inning which ultimately proved to be the difference.
The AL’s 4-3 victory, played in a brisk 2:21, was finally gained when Lowell’s Jose Garcia singled in Trent Mummey immediately after the Tigers’ Ryan Enos’ warning-track sacrifice fly delivered the tying run, and allowed Mummey to scamper into third in the process.
Still, the three-run eruption would have been for naught had the quintet of Aberdeen’s Justin Moore and Tim Aldeman, Hudson Valley’s Austin Hubbard and Staten Island’s Preston Claiborne and Chase Whitley not stopped the NL from building on a 3-1 lead after 3½ innings. The five pitchers threw hitless ball, striking out four and walking three over the final five stanzas. Claiborne received credit for the win and Whitley, who is second with 11 saves, earned one more in front of a sellout crowd of 7,171.
The Cyclones, with a league-leading 38-19 record, featured a franchise-best eight players, in addition to manager Wally Backman and assorted personnel for a grand total of 13 representatives.
Even the New York Mets would have to drool at Brooklyn’s numbers after 57 games. The ‘Clones led the league in virtually every vital offensive category, including batting average (.290), hits (564), total bases (883), doubles (117), home runs (48), slugging percentage (.454) and on-base percentage (.353). For good measure, their pitching staff ranks second in team ERA (3.02).
The host Yankees, who are 11 games behind Brooklyn in the McNamara Division with a 25-28 mark, had five players selected. Like Backman, Staten Island manager Josh Paul invited his entire staff.
The pitching match-up pitted two of the top four leaders in earned run average -Brooklyn’s Yohan Almonte (7-3, 1.73 ERA), vs. Auburn’s Casey Lawrence (6-1, 1.74). But, Almonte was lifted after one perfect inning and Lawrence was touched for two extra base hits in successive innings by Williamsport’s Cesar Hernandez and Miguel Alvarez.
Hernandez swatted a one-out triple into the rightfield corner and was poised to score as Cory Vaughn, one of a trio with a league-high 44 runs batted in, stepped in. But, the Cyclone outfielder, who is on pace to shatter team records for both homers and ribbies, could not deliver.
Vaughn swung mightily at Lawrence’s first pitch but, with the bat virtually sawed off, the ball merely dribbled back to the pitcher. Hernandez, who had been running on contact, was an easy out as fellow batterymate Carlos Perez accepted the toss to the plate. Though Vaughn later swiped second during Matthew Curry’s at-bat, he would remain there as the State College first baseman grounded to second.
Lawrence’s good fortune did not last long –just one pitch to Alvarez, who bombed the first offering of the second inning well beyond the leftfield fence to crack the seal.
The American League stars tied the score in the home third when Aberdeen’s Adam Gaylord opened with a single to left off the Crosscutters’ Eric Pettis and advanced when Jose Mojica, a hometown favorite, was given a hit when his fly ball to right could not be played by Vaughn. Lowell’s Felix Sanchez then singled through the box for the equalizer.
The National League wasted no time regaining the advantage. Vaughn greeted the Renegade’s Jacob Thompson with a single to right and Alvarez moved him along with a one-out hit to center. When Vaughn baited Sanchez into throwing to third, the Crosscutter leftfielder scooted into second. Vermont’s David Frietas popped to second, but Garcia’s errant throw across the diamond on an innocent-looking grounder by the ‘Clones Joe Bonfe allowed both Vaughn and Alvarez to saunter home.
In the bottom of the fifth, Backman -looking to employ a full squad- actually made five defensive substitutions, encompassing the No. 4-8 spots in the batting order.
Connecticut’s James Robbins, a lefty hitter with little speed, led off the eighth with a rocketed inside the first base line off Williamsport’s Chase Johnson, the eventual losing pitcher. Though Marcell Ozuna, the Jamestown rightfielder, had trouble retrieving the ball, Robbins elected to stay at second; in fact, he continued to play it safe, even as fellow Tiger Julio Rodriguez singled to left -despite the pleas by the impatient partisan crowd urging him to be more assertive.
Robbins’ odyssey concluded happily as PJ Polk, yet another Connecticut player, grounded to short, advancing Rodriguez to second, for the 3-2 tally. Then, with Mummey at the dish, Rodriguez stole third without a throw.
The Ironbird rightfielder eventually walked, and Backman inserted Ryan Fraser, his own guy, to stop the bleeding. Fraser hadn’t disappointed too often. He is fifth with nine saves and has an 1.46 ERA in 20 games, all in relief. Opponents are hitting .159 against him, which is the lowest in the league.
But, on this night, Matt Perry (the fourth Tiger to bat) walked before Enos lofted a game-tying sacrifice fly to right, and Garcia plated Mummey for the decisive run.
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Fans who arrived before 5:30 witnessed a one-round Home Run Derby, which was won by the Lake Monsters’ Frietas, who knocked four over the leftfield fence. Jeff Lanning (Williamsport) and Phillip Wunderlich (Hudson Valley) hit three apiece. Ozuna, who leads the Penn League with 15 dingers, hit just one.
Vaughn, who has hit 12, did not participate and teammate Rylan Sandoval, who has hit nine, is out for the season after getting hit on the right wrist with a pitch thrown by the Tigers’ Clemente Mendoza on August 8. The Cyclones, who surprisingly lead the league with 48 round-trippers despite playing a fair amount of ‘Wallyball’, also feature Jeff Flagg, a hulking 6’6” first baseman, who is among a cluster of 13 players who’ve hit a minimum of six.
(John Buro covers the New York Mets for Examiner.com)