One to go: Brooklyn on brink of clinching NY-Penn playoff spot
While the red-hot Muckdogs (44-30) were losing for the first time in 10 games, 5-3, to Auburn, the resilient Baby Bums (45-29) got just enough timely hitting and big-game pitching to hold off the upset-minded Spinners, shaving their magic number to secure a postseason spot for the fourth consecutive season to one.
Brooklyn starter Luis Cessa (5-4) limited Lowell to one run on six hits and a walk with two strikeouts over a season-high 8 2/3 innings before Cyclones closer Tyler Vanderheiden shut the door by getting Nick Moore to ground out with two runners on in the ninth for his team-high 12th save.
The crowd of 4,982 figures to swell considerably Tuesday night on Coney Island as the Cyclones can pop the corks on the champagne if they top the Spinners or the Muckdogs fall to Jamestown. If that doesn’t happen, the same scenario will play out in Wednesday evening’s regular-season finale with Lowell.
If Brooklyn can clinch Tuesday or Wednesday, it would be in line to host league-leading McNamara Division champion Hudson Valley, which stormed past Tri-City in the race for home-field advantage throughout the upcoming playoffs, on Friday night at 7 p.m. The next two games of the best-of-3 series would be played at the Renegades’ Dutchess Stadium.
But first things first.
The Cyclones entered Monday’s tilt with Lowell deadlocked with Batavia for the fourth and final playoff spot on the 14-team circuit. Cessa, making the biggest start of his professional career, rose to the challenge of pitching Brooklyn to the brink of the postseason, retiring all but one batter through the first three innings before allowing Jake Davies’ RBI single in the fourth.
Brooklyn’s offense responded immediately as Juan Gamboa delivered a run-scoring base hit in the bottom of the frame and supplemental first-round pick Kevin Plawecki put the Cyclones in front for good with an RBI single in the fifth to make it 2-1. Plawecki, who is batting .320 at MCU Park this summer, drove in another run to cap a two-run eighth inning, capping a 3-for-4 day and giving Cessa and Vanderheiden some breathing room in the ninth.
They would certainly need it as Mike Miller began Lowell’s bid for a game-winning rally with a booming leadoff double off Cessa. The 20-year-old Mexican right-hander struck out Jose Colorado and got Deven Marrero to ground to third before being chased from the mound by Davies’ base hit, leaving runners on the corners for Vanderheiden.
Brooklyn’s side-winding bullpen leader, who boasts a miniscule 0.82 ERA, didn’t flinch at the pressure of securing what amounted to a must-win in the Baby Bums’ ongoing quest to qualify for the playoffs, getting Moore to roll one to Gamboa, who tossed to first baseman Jayce Boyd for the final out.
Though they’re work isn’t quite done, the Cyclones reclaimed control of their own destiny for the final two games of the regular season, something that slipped out of their grasp due more to the Muckdogs’ nine-game winning streak than their own play. Brooklyn has won seven of its last 10 games down the stretch, and manager Rich Donnelly would like nothing more than to celebrate his second straight playoff campaign with the youngest team in the 12-year history of the Cyclones on Coney Island Tuesday or Wednesday night.
As would between 7,000 and 8,000 Brooklynites who are likely to be in the building on either one of those evenings.
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound right fielder had hit safely in his first four games with Lowell, but went 0-for-3 with a strikeout against the Cyclones. Heller, who starred at Amherst College before being selected in June’s MLB Draft, is batting .259 with four doubles and three RBIs in his first 17 pro games between the Gulf Coast League Red Sox and Lowell.
Heller, who will turn 23 next Wednesday, should be back in the lineup for the final two games of the critical season-ending series.
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