Are the Hurricanes starting another streak?
The Hurricanes outlasted the defending Springtown Mudcats win the Lehigh Valley Men's Baseball League 43 National Division Championship Series.
It is the 8th championship for the Hurricanes, and the first since their run of seven straight titles came to a close.
Here is how the series unfolded:
Game 1: Hurricanes walk off with a 10-9 victory in Game 1
Their third come-from-behind rally was the charm in a typical Canes vs. Mudcats thriller
By Steve Smull
Of The Lehigh Valley MSBL
Saturday, August 25, 2018 at Limeport Stadium
Mudcats player/manager Jamy Ritter said it best after a gut-wrenching loss that concluded a back and forth contest that saw the pendulum of momentum shift many times during this 9-inning contest.
“This game was a microcosm of Mudcats versus Hurricanes games: the team that bats last wins,” said Ritter.
Unfortunately for Ritter, the Hurricanes were the home team for Game 1 and won in walk-off fashion on an error, 10-9.
Despite the devastating ending, Game 1 did start well for the Mudcats.
Mike Pychinka led off the top of the second with a line-drive single to left after he should have been out twice earlier in the count. A dropped foul ball for an error and a missed called third strike gave Pychinka a third life in his opening at bat of the series and he took full advantage of it. Carlos Cotto reached on an error and things were not looking good for the Hurricanes as they should have had two outs and nobody on base.
After a fielder’s choice put runners on the corners with one out, Julio Lebron singled to make it 1-0 and both runners moved up an extra base on a throwing error from the outfield. The third error of the inning for the Canes did not matter as Tito Fuentes walked to load the bases. Luis Vasquez then walked on four pitches for a RBI and Ritter smacked a two-run single and the Mudcats led 4-0 and were threatening for more with the meat of their lineup coming up. However, Hurricanes starter Mike Drago settled down to get the next two outs and limit the damage.
The Canes got one run back in the bottom of the second on a Joe Galantini sacrifice fly after Matt Hanson and Chris Kross set the table with back to back singles to start the inning. The Hurricanes got two more runs back in the home third. Player/manager Steve Smull walked, Curt Steidinger got hit by a pitch and Chritian Bensing singled to load the bases with no outs. After a fielder’s choice kept the bases loaded, PJ Yoder, a former New York Mets minor leaguer, laced a two-run single to cut the Mudcats lead to 4-3 after three innings. The Canes tied it at 4-4 in the fourth after Ed Boyce slammed a two-out double to deep left and Mike Frassinelli delivered a clutch RBI single to right.
The Mudcats had an answer in the fifth. Three consecutive two-out singles by Tim Brader (former Detroit Tigers minor-leaguer), Pychinka and Cotto gave the Mudcats a 5-4 lead. They would add their fifth unearned run of the game in the top of the sixth when Ritter delivered a clutch two-out RBI single to score Fuentes, who reached on an error. Drago’s day on the mound would be done after 6 innings with a pitch count of 110.
The score would remain 6-4 Mudcats until the bottom of the seventh. With one out, Steidinger worked a 7-pitch walk and Bensing then singled which prompted player/manager Jamy Ritter to make a pitching change and bring Julio Lebron into the game. Andrew Panza greeted him with a single to load the bases and Yoder lashed a RBI single to cut the deficit to 6-5. Chris Beaver tied the game at 6-6 with a sac fly before Hanson and Kross delivered clutch two-out, RBI singles to give the Hurricanes an 8-6 lead.
Cotto led off the top of the eighth with a single and player/manager Steve Smull brought in his closer, Bensing to replace Boyce, who worked a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh. Cotto worked his way to third via a wild pitch and ground out and then scored on a RBI ground out to third by Lebron and the score was now 8-7 Canes and it would stay that way until the ninth.
With one out, Ritter went down and away on a 2-2 slider and somehow lashed a line-drive to left and the Mudcats had something brewing in the ninth. Chad Arnold, a former Independent League pro, walked, but Bensing then got a strikeout to put the Canes within an out of victory. Brader then stepped up and took the air out of the Hurricanes’ balloon by lofting the first pitch he saw to right for a RBI single, scoring Ritter to tie the game at 8-8. Then, during a 9-pitch walk to Pychinka, there was a wild pitch that scored Arnold and the Mudcats were three outs away from victory with a 9-8 lead.
After a strikeout to start the bottom of ninth had the Mudcats two outs away from victory, Panza and Yoder delivered back to back singles followed by a Beaver RBI single to tie the game at 9-9. After a fielder’s choice and an intentional walk to Kross loaded the bases with two outs, Galantini laced a hard ground ball to second that ended up being an error, the only error of the game for the Mudcats. However, the Hurricanes will take the win any way they can get it after a hard-fought 10-9 victory.
“This game was Indicative of the way our games go versus the Hurricanes,” said Mudcats player/manager Jamy Ritter. “We are happy when we are ahead, but we know they are going to keep coming at us. I have come to expect back and forth games with the Hurricanes every time out.”
“We were happy after the top of the ninth, when we battled back to take a 9-8 lead with two outs,” continued Ritter. “Unfortunately for us, we came up on the short end. We are down a little bit right now, but I am mentally ok and actually confident that we can get right back into this series with Arnold going Sunday in Game 2.”
“That was an unbelievable game,” said Hurricanes player/manager Steve Smull after the Canes came from behind a third and final time to win in dramatic walk-off fashion. “You hate to see a game like this end on an error, but you cannot forget how awesome that game was all the way through, right up to that final at-bat.”
“There were a lot runs, a lot of hits and a lot nail-biting,’ continued Smull. “This type of game is not a surprise when these two potent offenses get together. There is not one easy out in either lineup. The first six guys in our lineup did a lot of damage. The bottom half also chipped in. Lots of clutch hits including Frassinelli’s 2-out RBI single in the fourth inning to tie it at 4-4. Our offense was spectacular as usual.”
“And our pitching was also great today,” continued Smull. “Drago allowed just one earned run in 6 innings and Boyce gave us a 1-2-3 seventh inning which is a lot bigger than people realize. Ed has a shoulder issue and can barely throw, yet he still went out there and helped our team on the mound with a strong inning. It was important because that is one less inning Bensing had to throw today which leaves the door open for me to use him for a potential 2-inning later in this series.”
“We still have work to do on Sunday, though,” Smull continued. “Chad Arnold is waiting for us in Game 2. They will come out firing on all cylinders and we will need to match their intensity.”
Mudcats 040 011 012 -- 9 12 1
Hurricanes 012 100 402 -- 10 16 4
M: Pychinka, Lebron (7) and Hawk. H: Drago, Boyce (7), Bensing (8) and Hanson.
W – Bensing, L -- Lebron.
Mudcats: Ritter 3-5, 3 RBI, Pychinka 3-4, Brader 2-5, RBI, Cotto 2-5, RBI.
Hurricanes: Yoder 3-4, 2B, 3 RBI, 2 Runs, Beaver 2-4, 2 RBI, Bensing 2-5, 2 Runs, Panza 2-5, 2 Runs, Hanson 2-5, RBI, Kross 2-4, RBI.
Game2: Arnold, Mudcats slow the Canes roll, 5-2 to tie series
Chad Arnold tosses a six-hitter as the Mudcats rally in final at-bat to even series.
Sunday, August 26, 2018 at Limeport Stadium
Mudcats player/manager Jamy Ritter said he was confident that his squad could even the series with his ace, Chad Arnold on the mound.
Ritter had every right to be confident.
Arnold, a lefty who pitched professionally in the Frontier League for two years, threw against the Hurricanes on July 29 at Silver Creek. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth before the Canes started their only rally against him that day in 8 innings. The game ended in a 3-3 tie after 9 innings, which in essence, was enough to clinch the regular season title for the Mudcats. However, despite that Hurricanes rally, Arnold was dominant, throwing harder than he has in at least five years.
Arnold was not throwing as hard on Sunday as he was on July 29, but he was able to squelch every possible Hurricanes rally and did not allow a crooked number this time around as the Mudcats evened the series at 1-1 with a 5-2 win.
Game 2 on Sunday got interesting right out of the gate. After the Hurricanes Christian Bensing and Andrew Panza reached base on an error and a walk, respectively, to start the contest, PJ Yoder (a former New York Mets farmhand), hit a shallow fly ball to right that second baseman Luis Vasquez was able to apparently get under late, but he was unable to catch the ball. However, the home plate umpire made the “infield fly” call which meant it was an automatic out and the Mudcats got an extra bonus throwing out a runner who did not have to advance on the play for a double-play.
Arnold then got out of the inning on a questionable strike three call on a check swing without getting help from the base umpire. So a potential prosperous opening inning for the Canes ended with a goose egg.
Hurricanes starter Ed Boyce also delivered a goose egg in the bottom of the first. However, in the bottom of the second, Julio Lebron and Carlos Cotto each delivered one-out singles and Tito Fuentes got a two-out walk to load the bases. Ritter got hit by a pitch on the fifth pitch of his at-bat for a RBI and Arnold helped his own cause with a RBI walk and the Mudcats led 2-0 after two innings.
After Arnold got a fly-out to start the top of the third, Bensing, Panza and Yoder all singled and Yoder’s line-drive hit to center scored Bensing to cut the deficit to 2-1. Arnold induced a fly-out and a pop-up to end the threat.
The Mudcats immediately got something brewing in their home half of the third. Tim Brader, a former Detroit Tigers farmhand, singled and stole second and Mike Pychinka singled to put runners at the corners with nobody out. Hurricanes player/manager Steve Smull then brought in Chris Beaver to replace Boyce, whose shoulder has been ailing for a month, since pitching against these same Mudcats on July 29 at Silver Creek against Arnold. Boyce went 6 2/3 strong innings in that game, also getting a no-decision in that 3-3 tie.
When Beaver replaced Boyce, Pychinka stole second base before Carlos Cotto walked to load the bases with nobody out. However, Beaver then did his version of a magic act by inducing a 1-2-3 double-play and then an inning-ending ground out after a walk to Dave Palumbo. So the Mudcats got zilch after having the bases loaded with no outs and the score remained 2-1 Mudcats after three innings.
Beaver and Arnold settled in and kept things quiet until the sixth inning. Yoder singled to lead off the frame and promptly stole second. He then advanced to third when the throw skidded into center-field for an error. After a shallow fly-out to center, Matt Hanson hit a fly ball to right, but a little deeper, and Tito Fuentes threw a perfect strike to the cutoff man Brader, who threw home to apparently cut down Yoder at the plate for the third out. However, obstruction was called on the catcher by the home plate umpire, therefore allowing the run to score and we had a 2-2 tie, despite the protests of every player at Limeport Stadium wearing red jerseys.
Herb Yocum led off the bottom of the sixth with a single to left. After a he stole second base, Luis Vasquez sacrificed him to third. Fuentes reached on an error and the Mudcats had the lead back at 3-2. After Ritter walked to put runners on first and second, Arnold hit a fly ball to right deep enough to advance Fuentes to third base. After Fuentes reached third, Ritter deliberately got caught in a run-down between first and second base and the Canes’ defense could not get him out or stop Fuentes from scoring and it was now 4-2 Mudcats. After Keith Hawk walked, Brader laced another RBI single to make it 5-2.
Arnold pitched a 1-2-3 seventh and the series was now even at 1-1.
“I did not have my best stuff today, but my team played great behind me,” said Arnold after the game.
“Chad did a great job keeping us in this game,” said Ritter. “This was a tight pitcher’s duel and we were fortunate to scrap across three runs in the sixth to pull out the victory and even the series.”
“Chad was not as dominant as he was when he no-hit us through five innings a month ago,” said Hurricanes manager Steve Smull. “But he is smart enough and crafty enough to shut down our potent offense again today. You cannot expect to score two runs and win against their offense.”
“With that said, though, our pitching gave us a chance as we had it tied at 2-2 in the sixth,” continued Smull. “Beaver was spectacular in the third inning when he got us out of that huge jam. He threw two more scoreless innings after that. His performance allows us to have three pitchers ready for Game 3.”
Hurricanes 001 001 0 -- 2 6 5
Mudcats 020 003 x -- 5 9 1
H: Boyce, Beaver (3) and Hanson. M: Arnold and Hawk.
W – Arnold, L -- Beaver.
Hurricanes: Yoder 2-3, RBI, Run.
Mudcats: Brader 3-4, RBI, Yocum 2-2, 2 Runs, Pychinka 2-4.
Game 3: Hurricanes bats awaken as they win 20-8 for championship #8
Christian Bensing, PJ Yoder and Chris Beaver have big games to lead the 26-hit attack.
Mudcats player/manager Jamy Ritter said Chad Arnold wanted the ball for Game 3.
So Ritter gave him the ball.
The pitcher’s duel was on between Arnold and PJ Yoder of the Hurricanes. At least it was early on.
Arnold, a former Independent League pro player, had just finished up a 6-hit gem in Game 2 and would gave Ritter whatever he had left in the tank for the start of Game 3. He did pick right up where he left off with a 1-2-3 first inning and then he wriggled himself out of a second-inning jam. Chris Beaver and Chris Kross singled to start the top of the second inning and the Canes then had runners on the corners with one out after a fielder’s choice.
That is when something strange happened.
Mike Medaska fouled a ball off on the third base side high enough to reach the lights, where it smashed into one of them. Subsequently, a lot of glass came falling to the ground in front of, on top of and behind the Mudcats dugout. Glass fell right on at least one Mudcats player, but everyone was ok. There was about a 5-minute delay to clean up the glass that had fallen on to the field of play in front of the dugout. This may have been the first time this has ever happened since the lights were installed in 1984. Apparently this strange incident was a harbinger of things to come in Game 3.
Two pitches later, a strikeout double-play occurred to thwart a Hurricanes rally where Keith Hawk made a nice pick of a ball in the dirt on a swinging strike three and then fired a strike to first base to nab the runner to end the inning. The Mudcats went quietly in the bottom of the second, only managing a two-single by Carlos Cotto.
The Mudcats seemed to enter the Twilight Zone in the top of the third and were never able to escape. They had only made two errors in the entire series to this point. They would make two more in the top of the third and five more errors later in the game as they went into self-destruct mode as the Canes’ bats heated up.
An error started the top of the third for the Hurricanes, followed by singles by Ed Boyce and Mike Drago to load the bases and then Christian Bensing laced a RBI single. Andrew Panza stepped up next and lofted a RBI single, followed by a two-run single by Yoder to make the score 4-0 Canes. Arnold was out of gas, so Dave Palumbo was brought in to be the new pitcher. He induced fielder’s choice that scored another run to make it 5-0 and another error advanced the runner to second base. Kross then walked and Matt Hanson singled to reload the bases. Medaska followed with a RBI single to make it 6-0 before Palumbo got the next two batters to limit the damage.
Yoder then retired the first two batters in the bottom of the third before the Mudcats mounted a rally of their own. Tito Fuentes and Ritter singled and Arnold was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Hawk then walked to cut the deficit to 6-1. However, Yoder got a big strikeout to end the inning.
The Hurricanes then came up with a two-out rally of their own in the top of the fourth. Curt Steidnger led off the inning with a single and after two straight flyouts, Yoder was hit by a pitch. Beaver then lofted a RBI double to the right-center to make it 7-1 and Kross followed with a two-run single to make it 9-1 Canes.
The Mudcats got something brewing quickly in the home fourth as Mike Pychinka and Cotto both walked to start the inning. After a strikeout, Palumbo smashed a double to right-center scoring Pychinka, but Bensing hit second-baseman Steve Smull with a perfect relay throw and Smull threw a one hop strike to the plate to get Cotto, which squelched the rally. Vasquez then singled putting runners on the corners with two outs, but Yoder got a ground out to end the inning as the Canes now led 9-2.
An error started problems again for the Mudcats in the top of the fifth. Boyce was then hit by a pitch and after an out, Bensing ripped a RBI double to make it 10-2 Hurricanes. Panza ripped an RBI single but then got caught in a rundown. He managed to stay alive long enough for Bensing to score from third and it was now 12-2 Canes. Yoder and Beaver followed with singles and Kross walked to reload the bases but Palumbo induced a popup to get out of further trouble.
Just when it looked like Game 3 was decided, the Mudcats scored six runs on just two hits in the home half of the fifth and had the tying run at the plate with two outs to get right back into the game.
Ritter walked and Arnold singled to start the bottom of the fifth. Then a tailor-made double play ball would pretty much end this budding rally, but it was thrown into right-field to put runners on second and third with no outs. With the score now 12-3, Brader singled in two runs to make it 12-5 and there were still no outs. Hurricanes player/manager Steve Smull then visited the mound from second base and left Yoder in for another batter. He induced a groundout before walking Cotto to put runners on the corners and then Smull brought himself in to pitch.
Lebron walked to load the bases, and then Yocum dropped a shallow fly ball towards the line in left where Kross made a spectacular diving catch for the second out. After two bases loaded walks and an error made the score 12-8, Smull motioned for Bensing to come in and try to end the horrific inning for the Canes. Bensing got a ground ball to end the inning and keep the score at 12-8 as the players with orange jerseys breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Brader, the former Detroit Tigers farmhand, then took the mound for the Mudcats in the top of the sixth. He did not get much help from his defense as the Mudcats made four errors and gave up a bunch of unearned runs to finish out the game. Medaska and Joe Galantini singled to start the inning. Then a fielder’s choice at third and a single by Steidinger loaded the bases with one out. Bensing then ripped a two-run single to make it 14-8 Hurricanes. He stole second and after a strikeout, Yoder delivered another two-run single and went to second on an outfield throwing error to make it 16-8. Beaver singled to put runners on the corners and then Kross singled to plate Yoder and it was 17-8 Canes. A popup ended the inning.
The Mudcats would not go down easily in their home half of the sixth as the Canes kept giving the Mudcats walks and errors. A walk, error and another walk loaded the bases but Bensing was able to pitch around that and keep the score at 17-8.
Medaska led off the top of the seventh with a single. After an error and a grounder to first put runners on second and third with one out, Drago reached base on another error but collected a RBI on the groundout to make it 18-4. Drago then advanced on a wild pitch to put runners on second and third. Bensing then singled to make it 19-8 and the Canes were one run away from ending the game on the 12-run mercy rule with one out and runners on the corners. Panza reached on an error at short, but Drago could not score on the play as he had to hold his ground, so now the bases were loaded with one out for Yoder. He lifted a sacrifice fly to center-field to plate Drago and the Hurricanes won 20-8 to clinch the series.
Yoder was a midseason addition who was 3-for-4 with 5 RBI and 2 runs scored in Game 3 and finished the series going 8-for-11 with 9 RBI and 5 runs scored for the Hurricanes.
“I didn’t even know I did that to be honest,” Yoder said after the game. “I felt really comfortable at the plate. I just knew that this series would have knock em’ down and drag em’ out games that we needed every one of our teammates to do ‘their thing’ to win these games.”
“It really was so much fun for me just to be around an incredible group of knowledgeable baseball guys and just let it loose this summer,” continued Yoder. I couldn’t have picked a better group of teammates to come back to after a 6 year hiatus.”
Christian Bensing also returned to the Canes after taking a year off and he was huge in Game 3, going 4-for-6, with a double, 5 RBI, 3 runs scored. For the series, Bensing was 7-for-14 with 6 runs scored and 5 RBI at the plate and had both wins on the mound for the Hurricanes in this series.
“I am just happy to be playing again,” said Bensing after the win.” My year off was not planned, and it was the first time since I started playing at age 5 that I did not play. It just felt wrong not to be playing. I was looking for the right fit, and when I learned the Hurricanes were back I could not wait to get back onto the field.”
“When you play for the Hurricanes, you know what you are getting: guys who play hard, smart, unselfish baseball,” continued Bensing.” It is all about winning and supporting your teammates and has nothing to do with personal accomplishments. As far as the series goes, I was just looking to contribute any way I could, knowing the Mudcats are very talented.”
“I cannot say enough positive things about those two guys,” said player/manager Steve Smull, referring to Bensing and Yoder. “Their hustle, drive and baseball IQ are off the charts. They make me a better manager not just from what they do on the field, but what they bring to the dugout before the game and between innings.”
“Benny is 100% hustle all the time,” continued Smull. “His teammates are mesmerized by how hard he runs out every single play as if it is the last time he will ever run the bases. I have watched him do it for 9 summers now and it is still incredible to watch.”
“Yoder is a high IQ baseball player,” continued Smull. “I listen to what he says between innings about how the opposing pitcher is tipping pitches among other tidbits he is picking up during the course of the game and I realize why he is a former pro player. Well, besides his incredible talent. However, you become a smarter player just listening to him throughout the course of a game.”
“Beaver, Kross and Panza had a great series and an Injured Ed Boyce contributed 3 gutsy innings on the mound for us, which helped out our pitching staff,” Smull continued. “Everyone contributed in the series and all season long for us. The difference in Game 3 is that everything we hit seemed to find an open area somewhere. My hat goes off to that Mudcats squad over there. They played hard and took us to the limit. They are an incredibly talented team. The final score of Game 3 is not indicative of how close the talent level is with these two teams.”
“It wasn’t in the cards for us,” said player/manager Jamy Ritter after the Game 3 defeat. “We could play this series 10 times and there will be 10 different results with us winning 5 times and the Canes winning the other 5 times. That is the reality of how good these two teams are. Whoever gets hot is going to win. We got hot last year and won the title and they got hot this year and won the title. It has been happening this way every year since I joined the Mudcats five years ago.”
“I could not be happier with the season we had,” Ritter continued. “I am proud of how we remained focused and I am proud of the way we played hard this series. I tip my cap to the Hurricanes for the way they hit the ball in Game 3 and I congratulate them on winning the championship.”
Hurricanes 006 335 3 -- 20 26 3
Mudcats 001 160 x -- 8 8 7
H: Yoder, Smull (5), Bensing (5) and Hanson. M: Arnold, Palumbo (3), Brader (6) and Hawk.
W – Bensing, L -- Arnold.
Hurricanes: Bensing 4-6, 2B, 5 RBI, 3 Runs, Beaver 4-5, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 Runs, Yoder 3-4, 5 RBI, 2 Runs, Kross 3-3, 3 RBI, Medaska 3-5, RBI, Hanson 2-5, Panza 2-6, 2 RBI.
Mudcats: Ritter 2-3, Run.