BROOKLYN, NY – It all came down to this.
After 75 games in a span of 80 days, the outcome of the season would be decided by one game. Nine innings and 27 outs separated a postseason berth from a premature start to the winter. Every play assumes the highest degree of meaning and every road trip, hot streak and slump culminates for one last hurrah and the unofficial end of the summer.
For the Staten Island Yankees one more loss combined with an Aberdeen Ironbirds victory signals the end of their campaign. One more victory or Ironbirds loss and their ticket to the playoffs as a division winner will be punched by the slimmest of margins. The Baby Bombers did not need help on this evening from external factors as they collected the 5-2 victory on their own against their cross town rivals the Brooklyn Cyclones at MCU Park to clinch their first McNamara Division title since 2011.
— StatenIslandYankees (@SIYanks) September 7, 2015
On a breezy, late summer afternoon with the wind blowing around MCU Park, the Baby Bombers were poised to strike early, putting two runners on base in the first inning against the effectively wild Brooklyn starter Jose Celas. A double play by Trey Amburgey and a long fly ball by Ryan Krill knocked down by the wind in right field curbed any quick threat.
Celas settled down in the first third of the contest, holding Staten Island scoreless. With a limited roster once again on Monday, the Cyclones struggled to muster any threat against former Gonzaga southpaw Derek Callahan through the first three innings, collecting just two hits in that span. After getting a one double from Manuel Hilario in the third inning, the Cyclones stranded him with a strikeout and a textbook ground ball to shortstop Kyle Holder, eliminating any chance to pull off a potential upset.
Staten Island broke through in the ensuing inning, loading the bases on two walks and a throwing error by Holder’s opposite number Alfredo Reyes. Second baseman Thairo Estrada, a top 30 prospect on some Yankees prospect lists recorded the game’s first run batted in, beating out a double play ball.
The run would be followed by a two run double for catcher Eduardo De Oleo, capping off the three run frame. The season for Celas ended there after four innings, three runs, and four walks surrendered. Staten Island starter Derek Callahan made it hold, tossing five and one third scoreless innings to record his sixth victory of the season and lower his earned run average to 4.79 in his final outing.
Insurance would be provided on run scoring doubles in successive innings courtesy of Junior Valera and Kyle Holder.
“We have had a few guys in the lineup this year who have been very consistent,” Staten Island Yankees manager Pat Osborn said. “Junior Valera has been consistent all year and he finds a way to get big hits. Kyle hits that double down the line. That fifth run was huge.”
The additional runs proved vital as the Cyclones attempted a comeback in the bottom of the seventh, getting two tallies back in the frame, but were unable to derail Staten Island’s playoff aspirations.
Following three seasons devoid of a playoff opportunity, the Staten Island Yankees are making their tenth trip to the playoffs, eight of which coming as division winner.
“Put it this way. Winning never gets old,” Osborn said. “Hopefully these kids have started to experience the feeling of winning something that did not come easy. We still have work to do.”
The Staten Island Yankees finished with a 41-24 record, sweeping their division rivals from Brooklyn in each of their six meetings away from home in the borough.
“We have been the road warriors this year. That is for sure,” Osborn continued. “I think we enjoy it and I think it might be a good thing that we are playing one game at home in the playoffs and two on the road, but no matter where they play this team loves to compete. They play hard and they play the right way”.
Eric Duncan, a former New York Yankees first round draft pick and current Staten Island Yankees hitting instructor explained that the hitter’s work ethics this season contributed greatly to the success of the club.
“It is a testament to the guys, the way they grinded all year,” Duncan said. “We have had a couple of changes here and there with three or four guys in and out of the lineup, but for the most part it is the same group of hitters. They persevered and made adjustment to get to the postseason.”
Pitching coach Butch Henry, a veteran of seven major league seasons with five different teams, attributes their achievements to the experience of both the coaching staff and the players, many of who had proven track records coming out of the collegiate ranks.
“I think everybody brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this club. I think it is a testament to the young men who are in the other room (in the visiting clubhouse) and the work that they have done. The work that Pat has done as a manage to get these players to perform on a day-to-day basis. I think it has been a great experience.”
After taking seven of their last ten games, the Staten Island Yankees will face the Stedler Division champion Tri-City ValleyCats , an affiliate of the Houston Astros in a best-of-three semifinal playoff series beginning on Wednesday at 7 PM at Richmond County Bank Ballpark in Staten Island, before playing the final two games of the series at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in Troy, New York. The ValleyCats and Baby Bombers recently faced each other in Staten Island, where the home nine took two of three in their comfortable surroundings.
The clubs split their six season meetings overall and were separated by just one game in the New York-Penn League standings amongst division winners. The ValleyCats have been no stranger to success of their own, appearing in the New York-Penn championship series in each of the last three years, including capturing the league title in 2013 under former major league infielder Ed Romero.
A regular season filled with a myriad of emotions comes to an end on Labor Day, but the efforts of claiming a championship begin on Wednesday for two of the league’s most successful franchises as they embark on a journey towards immortality and lasting greatness.