I was certainly skeptical. Wings manager Stan Cliburn was not. After two lacklustre games to end the regular season, Cliburn vowed his team would be ready for the playoffs. And last night, ready they were! In front of the smallest but probably one of the loudest home crowds of the season, the Red Wings fell behind 4-1, and then rallied to tie and pull ahead of the Scranton Red Barons 6-4. That left it to the bullpen to survive the nail-biting final 3 innings to deliver the 6-5 first game victory for the pumped up Red Wings.
The game’s hero was certainly Garrett Jones. He was in the middle of everything it seemed, going 3 for 4, driving in 3 runs, and making a potential game saving defensive web-gem diving stab of a grounder that was headed into right field in the 9th.
Starting pitchers Mike Smith and Gavin Floyd sailed through the first 2 innings but Scranton broke the ice in the 3rd, scoring a run on a DP grounder. Rochester answered back in the 4th when Jones’ towering fly ball fell untouched in right field, apparently lost in the lights. Jones sped to third on West’s grounder to the right side; remained there as Glenn Williams weakly went down on strikes; but scampered home when clutch hitting Alex Romero swatted the first pitch to left for a base hit.
As has been the case most of the season, the Red Barons wasted no time regaining the lead in the 5th. After Smith easily retired the first 2 batters, Bobby Scales launched a high drive to deep left. Romero got back and appeared to catch the ball but his momentum carried him into the left field fence and the ball jarred loose. Scales landed at 2nd base where he then scored on a two strike hit by light hitting Ryan Fleming. A walk and a two run double by Carlos Leon followed and the Red Barons had grabbed a disheartening 4-1 lead.
It was at this point that Cliburn rallied the troops in the dugout. And the Wings went right to work in the bottom of the 5th, loading the bases with none out. Garrett Jones then hit a seeing eye grounder that just eluded the second baseman and two runs scored to narrow the deficit to 4-3. Terry Tiffee followed on the very next pitch with a line single and suddenly the game was tied 4-4.
In the 6th the Red Wings displayed some two out magic of their own. After the first two batters went down quickly, Andres Torres lined a base hit to keep the inning alive. Torres, who was thrown out stealing in the 1st inning, then took off for second again. This time Wathan’s throw eluded the second baseman and sailed into center field. Torres picked himself up and motored into 3rd base. Tommy Watkins then battled Floyd for several pitches before delivering a huge base hit to center to give the Wings the 5-4 lead. Quinton McCracken followed with a single moving Watkins to third. Then that man Jones delivered his 3rd hit of the night scoring Watkins with what would turn out to be the winning run as Rochester went up 6-4.
Beau Kemp came on in the 7th and retired the Red Barons without a run, but he ran into trouble in the 8th. Pedro Swann led off with a screaming liner down the 1st baseline that got lost in the right field corner. By the time the ball was recovered, Swann was standing at 3rd with none out. Hot hitting Gary Burnham quickly delivered Swann with a line single to center and suddenly it was 6-5 with none out. Kemp however bore down and retired the next 3 batters to preserve the lead.
It was then left up to rookie Bobby Korecky to close it out in the 9th. Korecky got the first batter Fleming on a routine grounder, but then he walked Dusty Wathan on 5 pitches to put the tieing run on first. With speedy Juan Sosa running for Wathan, Carlos Leon hit a scorcher wide of 1st that was headed for right field. Garrett Jones dove for the ball, stopped it, recovered and then just barely won the footrace to the bag to retire Leon. With Sosa in scoring position and the crowd on its feet cheering every pitch, the count went full on Josh Kroeger before he finally lofted a fly ball to center to end the game and give the Red Wings their first post season win since they clinched the Governor’s Cup in 1997.
This game had everything: seeing eye basehits; 7 runs scored after two were out; great defensive plays; stolen bases; 2 bunt-for-base-hits; a great comeback by the Wings; and high drama at the end. Scranton had men on base in virtually every inning. The top 4 hitters in the Wings lineup accounted for 10 of Rochester’s 12 hits. For entertainment value, this game had it all.
Wings Notes:The job doesn’t get any easier tonite for Rochester. Red Barons starting pitcher is Brian Mazone who finished the regular season 13-3 with a sparkling ERA of 2.03. Wings will counter with lefty Dave Gassner who was 2-0 with an ERA of 4.73 in his brief time with Rochester, after being injured most of the season. Don’t look for Scranton to take the loss in game one lightly.Garrett Jones was named the game MVP. “His heart and soul is baseball and we’re glad he’s a Minnesota Twin”, manager Stan Cliburn said after the game in a happy Red Wing locker room. (Well Stan, actually we’re still glad he’s a Rochester Red Wing right now, but we know what you meant!)Latest on Liriano: Francisco pitched with no pain in a simulated game on Wednesday. He is scheduled to start game 4 (if necessary) on Saturday and will probably be on a 45-50 pitch count (down from the 60-70 suggested earlier). If all goes well he could rejoin the Twins in time to start on Sept 14th at Cleveland. For the record, Minnesota is 36-9 in games started by Liriano and Santana.Matt Garza has been named USA Today’s Minor League Player of the Year for 2006. He follows Liriano, who won it last year.Twins farm director Jim Rantz is in Rochester to watch the first two games of the playoffs.Terry Tiffee is scheduled to be recalled by the Twins immediately following the Governor’s Cup playoffs.Strange but true: Wings and Barons played 16 times during the regular season and only 6 players from each current roster played in more than half of those games. Such is life in the minor leagues particularly when both parent clubs are battling for a player spot in September.The IL season is approximately 150 days long. Indianapolis spent 116 of those days in first place in the West Division but missed the playoffs all together when they were defeated 4-0 by Toledo in a one-game playoff on Tuesday.Rookie catcher Jose Morales was 0-4 last night but hit the ball hard and he played very well defensively. No Red Baron stole a base off of him. He will probably get the bulk of the work with Shawn Wooten done for the season with multiple ailments.