Cyclones make long-awaited return to playoffs
Brooklyn clinches McNamara Division in regular season finale
The Brooklyn Cyclones won’t have to “wait ’till next year” for the first time in seven seasons.
Buoyed by a nine-strikeout performance by West Islip, N.Y., native Frank Valentino and Luke Ritter’s clutch two-run double, the playoff-bound Baby Bums held off archrival Staten Island, 4-1, Monday afternoon in front of 3,957 fans at MCU Park to clinch their first postseason berth since 2012.
Not only did Brooklyn make its long-awaited return to the playoffs, but it also grabbed its first McNamara Division title since 2010 via a tiebreaker over Hudson Valley.
The Cyclones (43-32) will visit the Renegades (43-32) Wednesday night in Wappinger Falls, N.Y., for the first game of the best-of-three New York-Penn League semifinals.
Game 2 will be back in Coney Island Thursday evening and Game 3, if necessary, on Friday will also be in Brooklyn, where the Cyclones finally got to celebrate Monday afternoon after being locked in a four-team race for most of this blistering summer along Surf Avenue.
“I tried to go out there, pitch my best game and help the team win,” said Valentino, who yielded a run on one hit over 5 1/3 innings before the bullpen trio of Nick McDonald, Hunter Parsons and Reyson Santos closed Staten Island’s season out with 3 2/3 frames of scoreless relief.
“I knew the team would come through. Everyone was locked in today. It mattered. We needed to get this win.”
Valentino, a 24-year-old alum of the New York Institute of Technology, spent most of the ninth inning in the dugout with his teammates, awaiting the game’s final outs, which Santos provided by striking out the side around a one-out double.
“It was exciting,” said Valentino. “You go out there and watch those last three outs, and we ran out there and celebrated like we should have.”
They hope to celebrate at least a couple of more times as the Cyclones are trying to win the NY-Penn championship for the first time since their magical inaugural 2001 campaign.
Valentino was fortunate to get some early support in the biggest game of the year as Wilmer Reyes opened the scoring with an RBI two-bagger in the bottom of the third before Ritter followed with what proved to be the game-winner just one batter later.
Staten Island answered with a run in the top of the fourth, but rehabbing Mets second baseman Robinson Cano’s RBI groundout in the bottom of the inning re-established Brooklyn’s three-run lead, which it held for the duration of the contest.
Third-year Cyclones Manager and former Mets All-Star Edgardo Alfonzo had indicated to his team in the days leading up to the finale that he just wanted their best effort down the stretch.
The motivational talk helped Brooklyn win four of its last six, including a regular season-ending sweep of Staten Island.
“I felt like we never felt any pressure today,” said Brooklyn outfielder Antoine Duplantis, who went two for four with a run scored in the clincher.
“Fonzie brought us together last week and told us, ‘whatever happens, happens.'” added the Mets’ 12th-round pick out of Louisiana State University this past June.
Now, Brooklyn fans who have been frustrated the past seven years will finally get to root their team on in the playoffs again, something the players are looking forward to.
“I hope it’s electric,” Duplantis said of the expected atmosphere for Thursday night’s Game 2 here in Brooklyn.
“I hope there’s a lot of people here. I think most competitors play better when there’s a lot of people in the stands and there’s something at stake.”
This, That and the Other Thing: The Cyclones have named right-hander Michael Otanez as their Game 1 starter in Hudson Valley. The 22-year-old Dominican is 2-1 with a 2.97 ERA in seven starts for Brooklyn after beginning the year at Rookie-level Kingsport. Otanez has not allowed an earned run over his last two starts, including a tidy five-inning stint at Aberdeen last week that helped the Cyclones’ playoff push.
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