Batavia Muckdogs win division title, host playoff game Wednesday
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When Labor Day started, the Batavia Muckdogs knew a win would get the team in the playoffs, but they needed help from Mahoning Valley.
As the Muckdogs were taking care of business in Auburn, Mahoning Valley in Ohio took a 2-0 lead over West Virginia, the team tied with Batavia on top of the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division.
The first subdued celebration took place when the Muckdogs realized West Virginia lost, 2-0. A few minutes later, a fly ball harmlessly fell in the glove of Troy Johnston, Batavia had a 7-0 win over Auburn and won the division, the first title in nine years.
Batavia will host Lowell in a best-of-three playoff series on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. Tickets for season ticket holders are on sale now for only $5 each. Tickets at all levels will be $1 off the regular game-day price. The box office will be open, the website is muckdogs.com and the phone number is 585-483-3647.
The pressure to win was off the offense on Monday thanks to the pitching of Edgar Martinez. The hard-throwing 22-year-old righty was signed by the Miami Marlins out of the Dominican Republic. He went a season-high six innings throwing shut out baseball giving up just two hits and one walk while striking out six.
When he left the game, Batavia had a 5-0 lead thanks to home runs from Nic Ready and Troy Johnston plus a triple from Dalvy Rosario.
"I felt emotional, but I had to keep my emotions in check knowing it was a big game to pitch … it was my turn, I had to do my job," said Martinez, who added his fastball and slider were working. "I felt good after six innings and wanted to keep going but I knew my pull pen would pick me up. My fastball and slider were working well."
Johnston, who belted the two-run home run in the third inning, said the Batavia fans helped the team after losing two straight before Monday. He also said the Marlins are putting winning teams together.
"It was frustrating at the times, but we thank the fans for sticking with us and their support, we really thank them as they really pushed us over the edge to win a league title," said Johnston. "We traveled really, really well. It almost felt like World Series Game 7 as more than half the fans were your home team and it was awesome to see.
"This was a lot of games and it came down to the wire. We have a close-knit team and it's really exciting we could come together and win a championship like this," Johnston continued. "It's really important, I think, that the Marlins noticed this. It's important to teach guys how to win, if you don't know how to win then you can't be successful. This team really knows how to win and helpfully we carry this on to the playoffs and the championship game."
Johnston, a 17th-round pick of the Marlins this year out of Gonzaga University (Spokane, Wash.), turned on a 3-1 fastball and blasted it well over the right field fence.
"It was really exciting, I worked a 3-1 count which is a pitchers count and he threw one down the middle. It felt good, I knew it off the bat and it's good to get the team ahead," Johnston said. "I was talking to the Auburn Doubledays bull pen the whole game, so it was a little scoreboard watching and playing the game!"
Batavia manager Tom Lawless was spent part of the 2016 season as the manager of the Houston Astros. After his successful Major League Baseball career, which included a home run in the World Series, he has been a manager and coach. He said it's exciting to win, no matter the level.
"Winning is the same. It's hard to win, that's the way I look at it," said Lawless. "When you start a season and you end up winning the division, it takes a lot. It takes a lot on a daily basis to perform like you are supposed to every single game, whether it's a short season or a long season, if you can grind it out and make the playoffs, then it becomes a short-season. And you go out and do your best."
Lawless said the team may have tired a little down the stretch, as the Muckdogs lost two straight before Monday.
"We played so hard against West Virginia. I think after that we came out flat, but the boys stepped up to the plate today and got going and the pitching did the rest for us," Lawless said. "It's baseball, you never know. You leave after Spring Training and your goal is to play at the end of the year, be in contention and play well. We struggled the last two weeks scoring runs and I think the guys were tired.
"Give them credit, they could have packed it in, but they scored runs and both sides of the baseball showed up. The pressure is off, they made the playoffs," Lawless continued. "This team (Auburn) showed they can score runs and they beat us a couple times handily and we won some close games, in this game, anything can happen
As for the performance of his starter, Lawless said of Martinez, "He attacked the strike done, he got a lot of outs early in the game, which is why he could keep pitching in the game."
Brock Love tossed a perfect seventh then Joey Steele shut down Auburn the eighth and got a strikeout, then Evan Brabrand retired all three batters in a row in the ninth. Brabrand, the closer, has a 1.29 ERA this season.
Catcher Mikey Hernandez is in his third year of professional baseball and said this is his first playoff team.
"It was great to be a part of this, everyone has bought into this, especially the pitching staff. Everyone knows their roles and their job," Hernandez said. "This pitching staff, we have a lot of pitchers and a lot of experience. It's great as a team to see how successful they are."
J.D. Orr had a two-RBI double for Batava, his ninth of the season while the home run was Ready's 10th of the season and he has 47 RBIs. Johnston's HR was his third while Rosario hit his 15th double and Andres Sthormes had his second double. Albert Guaimaro continued his hot streak with a single.
Top photo: Edgar Martinez fires a slider on Monday against Auburn. He threw six scoreless innings for his fourth win of the season, which won the division for Batavia.
Bottom photo: The Muckdogs celebrate winning the Pinckney Division title.