Beltran watches one fly
September 24: On the verge of their first playoff appearance in two years (magic number: one), the St. Francis Friars fell behind early, 5-0. Then Carlos Beltran took over.
Rookies got the call for both squads in this late-season matchup. The Cutters, still looking to be spoilers, sent out Jose Fernandez against the hosts’ Shelby Miller, one of the first of many matchups between the two talented youngsters.
The Cutters, out of the race for months in a rebuilding season, put the first runs on the board against Miller when Chris Johnson lined a one-out single to plate Adam Dunn and Brett Lawrie. Dunn scored again in the fourth on a Logan Morrison safety.
The top of the fifth inning was again kind to Brownsville. Victor Martinez, DH’ing in his first season with the Cutters, had the green light on a 3-0 pitch with Anthony Rizzo dancing off first base. Martinez, batting lefty against the right-handed Miller, went with the outside pitch and hit it A TON to left center. The Cutter lead was now 5-0, and the Casselton Horned Toads appeared to still have a chance for the division crown!
One reason the second-place Horned Toads were still alive was Fernandez. Other than Chris Davis’ first-inning single, the Cuban was mowing down St. Francis’ offense through four innings. Carlos Beltran, however, led off the fifth and got the fat part of the bat on a 2-2 slider. Finally, the Friar faithful had a chance to cheer. The ball soared out of The Monastery to right-center field to nip the Cutter lead to 5-1.
St. Francis’ path to a playoff spot widened some in the bottom of the sixth when, with two out, Fernandez was pulled after giving up a second base runner. Fernandez threw 87 pitches in 5 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and striking out six. Josh Collmenter came on and struck out Beltran to end the threat, but the Friars had forced the suspect Cutter bullpen into play for the final three innings.
The first batter of St. Francis’ seventh was Aaron Hill. Collmenter was still in the game, but Hill wasn’t fooled by the over-the-top arm action and sent a laser over the wall in left. Next was Todd Frazier, DH’ing for the day. Frazier, too, saw an offering he liked and launched one to the section next to Hill’s. Brownsville kept Collmenter in the game and, despite two more runners in the seventh, he ended the frame with the lead intact at 5-3.
Scott Downs, meanwhile, came on for the Friars and suffocated the Cutter offense from the sixth inning on.
The Friars failed to score in the eighth against Frank Francisco, sending the game to the ninth inning and Matt Belisle. To be clear, a loss here would simply delay the likely-inevitable; with five regular-season games left, St. Francis had a five-game lead on Casselton.
Belisle came on and struck out Alexei Ramirez for the first out of the ninth. Salvador Perez singled, and Kyle Farnsworth came on to face aging Ichiro Suzuki. The mid-season pickup jumped on a fastball and put it in the left-center gap with Perez stopping at third.
With the potential tying run on second base, Brownsville called on Chris Young (with his namesake playing center). The first hitter was Shin-Soo Choo, and he rifled a double to right-center to tie the game! The dangerous Davis was walked intentionally and Young needed just three pitches to strike out Pedro Alvarez.
Young was just an out away from salvaging extra innings, but standings in his way was Beltran. The left-fielder was 2-for-4 with a run and RBI so far on the night and after Young went to a 1-1 count he saw a pitch he liked. Beltran hit a high drive to right field…Morrison went back…back…BACK…
Beltran, with a three-run jack, had just clinched the Central Division for the Friars and Scott Hatfield! The home fans went wild as the team stormed the field and celebrated into the night!
The Friars are in the playoffs, and the playoff matchups are set. In the first-round best-of-five series, St. Francis draws the BARB record-setting Worcester Eliminators. The other series will match the two most successful franchises in league history: the Yuma Firebirds (two championships, ten playoff appearances in eleven years) and the Frostbite Falls Flying Squirrels (five titles, nine playoffs).
Worcester, Yuma and Frostbite have all won 100 games. Before 2013, only two teams in league annals (Hatfield’s inaugural-season 2003 Delta V’s, 103; Yuma in 2011, 101) had reached the century mark. Worcester, at 111 wins with four games to play, has obliterated the previous record. Yuma has also passed it at 104, while Frostbite can reach 103 by winning out. The Flying Squirrels and Eliminators play in the same division (East), which means that, despite a team record for wins, Frostbite will still finish around 10 games back of the division winner.
The favorite? It could be Worcester—hard to pick against them after so many victories, of course—but both Yuma and Frostbite have much better run differentials than the Elims. In fact, using Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, Worcester is 13 games better than their runs scored and runs allowed say they should be, while both Yuma and Frostbite are four games worse. But Matt Caskey’s club does have an offense (875 runs) that can give them leads and a bullpen (one loss when leading after seven innings) that consistently shortens games. Could we have a replay of 2010? Frostbite Falls had easily the best run differential but barely earned the wild card spot behind Worcester. The Squirrels beat Yuma in four games and Worcester advanced to the World Series in five, but the Eliminators then swept Andrew Haynes’ team for the title.