After a bitter defeat at the hands of the visiting Lakewood BlueClaws on Monday, a loss that saw their bullpen falter to the tune of five runs in the ninth inning, the Lexington Legends took back their house in a 5-2 win on Tuesday in Game Two of the SAL Championship.
We saw another dominant performance by a Legends starter, this time RHP Jackson Kowar (5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K), who followed up his Sept 5th win vs. the visiting Rome Braves in the first round of the playoffs (5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K) with another excellent showing. Kowar landed 67% of his pitches for strikes (69 pitches, 46 strikes), sat 94-95 mph with his fastball and touched 96 several times throughout the night. He made it look effortless.
Following Kowar, LHP Marcelo Martinez put the hammer down with a fastball that seemed anything but. Sitting at 87-89 mph and pairing it with a breaking ball at 75-77, he seemed to mystify Lakewood batters over two scoreless innings (1 H, 0 BB, 4 K). After giving up a lead-off single to Simon Muzziotti, Jake Scheiner struck out swinging on a pitch near the heart of the plate, Rodolfo Duran popped out to Nick Pratto, And Jhailyn Ortiz flew out to CF Kyle Isbel. All three batters made outs on pitches that cut well into the outer third of the strike zone and just about belt-level.
Martinez continued to live on the outer third of the plate in the seventh, breezing through Madison Stokes, Dalton Guthrie, and Jose Antequera, and all in or very close to the same part of the strike zone in which he set up residence in the sixth.
Janser Lara hit a speed bump in the eighth, giving up a lead-off single to Matt Vierling on an 0-2 pitch that caught an awful lot of the plate. Muzziotti grounded out to Cristian Perez on a waist-high pitch but moved Vierling up to second. After Scheiner flew out to center on a pitch right down Broadway, Duran turned hard on a middle-in pitch and dropped it over the left-field wall and cut Lexington’s lead to three.
Visions of Monday night danced in our heads.
The Legends’ batters went down in order in the bottom of the eighth. The top of the ninth brought Tad Ratliff (whom I am tempted to nickname “Bulldog”) to the bump. Ratliff came right at lead-off batter Maton, who swung at a (seemingly) fat pitch, but only managed to ground out to Aracena. Stokes was next, and he went down easily on three swinging strikes (all outer-third). Guthrie started his own brief two-out rally, singling past Perez, but Antequera lost a six-pitch battle to the Lexington closer to close out the victory for the Legends.
On the offensive side, Lexington started off with MJ Melendez‘s first-pitch homer to opposite field off of Lakewood lefty Kyle Young. Pratto walked and swiped second after several pick-off attempts, then Brewer Hicklen walked behind him. Third baseman Manny Olloque grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, ending the threat.
Beyond a hard-hit single by C Sebastian Rivero in the bottom of the second, the Legends had nothing going in the inning. However, the third had Isbel singling to center and moving to third on a Pratto double to right, an inside pitch that wasn’t inside quite enough. When Hicklen grounded to Maton at short, he reached first when Maton went for the easy out at third. Pratto was erased, but Isbel scored on the play, making it 2-0, Lexington.
The fourth inning was a quiet one, and other than an Aracena base knock to left, there was no action of which to speak. Isbel grounded out to move Aracena into scoring position, but Melendez struck out on a 1-2 pitch that just nicked the low-outside corner, and Pratto flew out to center on a 2-2 outside pitch.
It was all outs for the Legends in the sixth, with Hicklen, Olloque, and Perez going down in order. The (lucky) seventh was another story.
Cal Jones led it off with an 0-2 worm-burner right through the middle of the infield, and after Rivero and Aracena both flew out, Isbel continued what became a two-out rally when he sent a base hit on the same path through the infield and into center, moving Jones to second. Melendez followed suit with his own single, this on a two-strike count, and Jones scored. When Muzziotti tried for Jones at home and Duran couldn’t corral the throw, both runners moved into scoring position. Lakewood reliever Julian Garcia let one fly and Duran couldn’t get to it, allowing Isbel to score. Pratto tacked on a run when he scored Melendez on a right-field single, and that would be it for Garcia. RHP James McArthur (1 1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 2 K) took over and put out the fire when he struck out Hicklen looking.
By now, it was 5-2, Lexington, and the last home game of the season at Whitaker Bank Ball Park would end that way.
With the series tied at one, the Legends hit the road for Lakewood, NJ, to play Game Three of the Championship tomorrow at 7 PM in the BlueClaw’s First Energy Stadium. LHP Daniel Lynch faces RHP Andrew Brown (6-3, 2.10 ERA, 14 appearances, 68 2/3 IP, 49 H, 2 HRA, 16 BB, 58 K).