As the regular season ended and the Red Wings had just been beaten badly two times at home by the IL North Champion Scranton Red Barons, I lamented at the Wings ‘strategy’ of rolling over in these 2 meaningless games. I reasoned that it would be difficult to just turn on the switch and start playing hard against such a good ballclub.
It’s nice to be wrong! Very nice to be very wrong. Beginning Tuesday, it will be the Red Wings, not the Red Barons that will be competing for the 2006 Governor’s Cup against the defending champion Toledo Mud Hens.
What an amazing turn-around. The Wings re-ignited their offense in games 1 and 2, coming from behind both times to defeat the tenacious Red Barons. Then last night, after yet another comeback, the Wings ran out of miracles and Scranton stayed alive with a 6-3 victory.
But the real story of the series was tonight’s game. Francisco Liriano was the Wings starter, on a 45 pitch count rehab start before returning to the Twins and he was opposed by Jeremy Cummings, whose last outing was a 9 inning no-hitter against the Wings at Frontier Field last Sunday. The Red Barons had pounded every Wings starter mercilessly ever since last Sunday.
How would Liriano fare in his first real competition in a month? And what would the Wings do after Liriano came out? More importantly, how would the Red Barons adjust?
Liriano did his job. He threw 40 pitches over 3 innings allowing no runs, no hits, 1 walk and 1 hit batter. He was for the most part very sharp. But Cummings was shutting the Wings down as well.
But now, as Paul Harvey always says, you’re about to hear ‘the rest of the story’. And that story is rookie lefty Glen Perkins. Perkins had made only one other appearance with the Wings and that was mostly unremarkable. He now had the unenviable task of following one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, in the most pressure game of the 2006 season.
Perkins started with a flourish striking out his first two hitters and retiring the Red Barons in order in the 4th. And he kept making good pitches. Red Barons finally got their 1st hit with 2 outs in the 5th on a single by Kroeger. But after 6 innings there was still no score.
In the top of the 7th, the Red Barons finally blinked. Terry Tiffee led off with a double. After Glenn Williams popped out, Alex Romero lined a double over Pedro Swanns head and Tiffee motored home with the games first run. On the throw home Romero took third but was thrown out at home trying to score on Gil Velazquez’s fly ball.
Perkins sailed thru the 7th unscathed. The Wings went back to work in the 8th. Rookie catcher Jose Morales led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Torres. With Tommy Watkins batting Morales went to 3rd on a wild pitch. Watkins then blooped a hit to right scoring Morales and the Wings had an insurance run.
Glen Perkins came of age in the 8th. After getting the first out, he walked Fleming and Leon to put the tying runs on base. Stan Cliburn came out to have a chat with his lefty and then let him remain in the game. All Perkins did then was to strike out Josh Kroeger and Pedro Swann to end the inning and the threat.
Wings couldn’t score in the 9th and manager Stan Cliburn, who has made a career out of pushing the right buttons with this team in 2006, handed the ball to Perkins and sent him back out to finish the job. Perkins completed his gem by retiring Burnham, Wathan and King on fly balls to end the game and Scranton’s season.
While Francisco Liriano was certainly the big news prior to this game, Glen Perkins was the star. Liriano set the table by keeping the Red Barons scoreless for 3 innings (something the Wings had no success doing for nearly a week), but it was Perkins who slammed the door shut by allowing only 1 hit and no runs over the last 6 innings. He was unflappable.
Imagine watching the battery of Perkins and Morales...two guys with virtually no AAA experience at all...playing the role of heros for the gutsy Red Wings. Shutting out the Red Barons tonight was about as improbable as the Red Wings eliminating them in 4 games, but there it is!!
Wings now have two days to rest up for their final test of 2006. Toledo, like Scranton finished the regular season very strongly. But all bets are off now. It’s best-of-five for all the marbles. The last time the Wings made the post season they won the Governor’s Cup over the Columbus Clippers in 1997. It was the 10th time they had won the Cup. Toledo has won one Governor’s Cup. It came last year.
HEROES AND ZEROES IN THE FIRST ROUND:Give the hero medals to: Glen Perkins for pitching the game of his career so far; Garrett Jones who hit .533 with 5 RBI and a handful of great defensive plays; Quinton McCracken who was solid in every game and also hit .533. He recorded the Wings first post-season 4-hit game in many a year; Andres Torres who hustled both at bat and in the field and finished at .353; Tommy Watkins and Alex Romero who chipped in key RBI when the Wings needed them most; Jose Morales who came up when both Heintz and Wooten were unavailable, and didn’t look out of place in the pressure of post season. He scored a key run tonite in the 8th after leading off the inning with a single; and Bobby Korecky who came on in the 9th inning of game one and preserved the Wings 6-5 win. That was an important game for Rochester because it showed that the Wings could finally beat Scranton.The zeroes go to: Glenn Williams who managed 1 hit in the 4 games. He also struck out 7 times. He must improve. Fortunately his mates picked him up. Dave Gassner who had nothing at all in pitching 1 1/3 innings and allowing 5 runs in a game the Wings came back to win; and a mini-zero to Jason Miller who came on in game 3 with the score tied, after Pete Munro gutted his way thru 5 tough innings, and promptly gave up the ultimate winning run.Give a special hero medal to manager Stan Cliburn, who managed a masterful series. Doesn’t matter what the league says; he is my manager of the year hands down. 7 of the players in tonight’s lineup (not counting Liriano) were in the lower minors for most of the 2006 season. Cliburn kept them all playing hard (except for the final two games of the season,,when most of the players admitted they completely let down...OK you’re all forgiven!)
So, the Red Wings have eliminated the leagues top team in 2006. No matter how the final chapter is written, one has to be very satisfied with the 2006 Rochester Red Wings.