And now stay tuned for the stunning finale of the 2016 Eastern League Championship…
When we last left our heroes, they had just finished polishing off the Trenton Thunder in game one of the finals. While we were watching the Clippers and Mike Clevinger’s no hitter from the 2015 play-offs on the 14th, the RubberDucks took game two from the Thunder 4-2 thanks largely to a fine start by Rob Kaminsky and three hits, two runs and an RBI by Jordan Smith. That set up the game three match in New Jersey with Nick Pasquale starting for Akron and former Indians farmhand Justus Sheffield making the start for Trenton.
Early on, the offense was sparse as the Ducks managed a walk in the first and the second and the Thunder had one walk in the second as well, but nothing else. It was another walk in the third that lead to the first run on the game. Ivan Castillo walked, moved up on a Greg Allen sac bunt and then again on an Eric Stamets single. With two on, the previous games’ hero, Smith, then knocked in a run with a ground out.
The Thunder added their first hit in the bottom half, but Mike Papi saved Pasquale the trouble when he caught Michael O’Neill trying to turn it into a double. However, the Thunder returned the favor the following inning. After Papi walked to lead off the inning, he moved to third thanks to a single and an error. Then, when he tried to score on a fly ball to the very same Michael O’Neill, he was caught out at the plate for an inning ending double play. Was it coincidence or was it karma, you decide!
Heading into the fifth, Sheffield had allowed just one run on two hits, but the four walks and five strike outs had elevated his pitch count in a season where he had already thrown 125 innings in the regular season. He was pulled after retiring the first batter in the fifth and was replaced by another former Indians pitcher, Anthony Swarzak. Future Indians outfielder, Greg Allen, then singled, stole second, stole third and went home on an Eric Stamets sacrifice fly to tally a quick run on Swarzak.
Pasquale remained in the game for the fifth and, with two outs, also gave up a quick run when Sebatian Valle took him deep to diminish the Ducks lead to one. Dillon McNamara replaced Swarzak in the top of six and retired Akron in order. O’Neill then singled off Pasquale to start the bottom half and made it to third before the starter was finally pulled for Cole Sulser. With two down and a runner on third, he was able to induce a Miguel Andujar ground out to end the inning and keep the lead intact.
The Ducks attempted to mount another assault in the seventh when Mark Mathias walked and Allen doubled him to third, but another former Indians farmhand, J.P. Feyereisen came in with two outs and struck out Stamets. Sulser then stayed in for the next two innings and didn’t allow a baserunner. The Ducks went down pretty quickly over the final innings before Louis Head came into the ninth for the save. He retired the Thunder in order with two strike outs including an inning, game and series ending K of Andujar.
The 2016 Eastern League Championship was the fifth for the city of Akron following wins in 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2012. In addition, they lost in the championship round in 1992, 1993 and each season from 2006-08. This series could be considered a bit of a rivalry as well as the RubberDucks/Aeros faced off against the Thunder in 2007, 2008 and 2012 with this series win pushing their all-time record to a tie at 2-2. With the win, Akron moved into fifth all time in Eastern League Championships.
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