Friday, September 13, 2013

Thunder Bring the Thunder to Capture Eastern League Title

The Trenton Thunder celebrate the Eastern league title
The Trenton Thunder were not supposed to make it past the first round of the Eastern League playoffs. Not only did they advance, but they didn't lose a single game in capturing the third title in their history. The Thunder finished off the Harrisburg Senators 11-4 Thursday night to win the championship for the first time since 2008. (The Thunder's first title came the year before.)

The Yankees Double-A affiliate went up against the Mets' Binghamton squad in the playoffs opening round. The B-Mets won the league's eastern division by 12 games over the second place Thunder and were heavily favored to win the series, but Trenton got hot at the right time.

The Thunder rode a nine game winning streak into the playoffs and never let up. The tone for the series and playoffs was set in the first game of the first round. The Mets scored a pair of runs in the top of the 10th inning to take a 5-3 lead, but the Thunder rallied with two outs in their final at-bat.

Jose Pirela doubled and scored on Gary Sanchez's single. Tyler Austin's infield single moved to pinch-runner Francisco Arcia into scoring position and it paid off when Casey Stevenson singled to tie the game. Ben Gamel brought Austin home with the game winning run with a single of his own to right field.  The Thunder's 2-out, 5-hit rally came against Mets closer Jeff Walters, who saved 38 games during the regular season.

Another nail biter followed in Game 2 with the Thunder's Mikey O'Brien and the Mets' Darin Gorski locked into a 1-1 pitcher's duel. It stayed that way until the 7th inning when Mason Williams reached on a 1-out single and scored the go ahead run on a 2-out double by Ali Castillo.

Tommy Kahnle closed things out for the Thunder in the 9th with a pair of strikeouts and a ground out after Blake Forsythe drew a 2-out walk.

The series moved on to Binghamton where the Mets hoped to get up off the canvas and rally, but the Yankees pitching staff would have none of it. Despite the fact they gave up 11 hits, starter Shane Greene and relievers Pat Venditte, Branden Pinder, Manny Barreda, and Danny Burawa kept the Mets off the scoreboard.

The offense, meanwhile, put two on the board in the 5th inning and another in the 7th. Reegie Corona and Castillo each picked up an RBI in the process. Burawa picked up the final four outs, three by strikeout, to clinch the series.

Harrisburg, Washington's Double-A affiliate and the western division's regular season champs, advanced to the finals in four games by defeating the second place Erie SeaWolves.

Trenton blew Game 1 open with a 5-run 3rd inning and cruised to an 8-2 win. Williams drove in two in the big inning with a single and later added a sacrifice fly. Nik Turley stuck out 10 over six innings to earn the victory.

The Thunder had to rally from 3-1 and 4-3 deficits to capture Game 2. Starter Bryan Mitchell struggled with his control and walked seven Senators, but Francisco Rondon, Burawa, and Kahnle kept Harrisburg in check over the final 3.2 innings.

Down a run in the 7th, Austin and Kyle Roller drew back-to-back 1-out walks from reliever Richie Mirowski. Another clutch hit by Gamel loaded the bases and Corono followed with a single of his own to tie the game at 4-4. Castillo hit a grounder to second baseman Rick Hague, but his only play to was to first base as pinch-runner Stevenson scored the go ahead run.

Harrisburg put two men on in the 9th, but Kahnle retired Billy Goodwin on a fly out and struck out Steven Souza to end the game and earn Rondon the victory. Just like Binghamton, Harrisburg returned home with the hopes of rallying from a 2-0 deficit, but the Thunder quickly put that idea to bed in Game 3.

Down 1-0 in the 3rd inning, the Thunder on a thunderous night back in their home state, scored five times to take control of the game. Senators starter Nathan Karnes put up a 3.26 ERA during the regular season and held opponents to a .224 average, but he wouldn't make it out of the 3rd inning Thursday night.

Like their playoff opening rally, the damage came with two outs. Williams started it with a 1-out single, but things didn't get going until Ramon Flores made the second out of the inning. After Pirela was hit by a pitch, Sanchez tied the game with a ribbie single.  A wild pitch put Trenton ahead 2-1 and Austin followed with an RBI triple.

Gamel's double made it a 4-1 game and the Thunder added another run after Karnes and reliever Matt Swynenberg combined to walk three straight hitters. Castillo and Pirela chipped in with home runs later in the game and the Thunder rolled to an 11-4 victory to give  Greene his second victory of the playoffs.. Pinder allowed an unearned run in the 9th, but with two on and two outs got Jeff Howell to fly out to Williams in center to set off the celebration.

Congratulations to the Thunder - GM/COO Will Smith, manager superba Tony Franklin, coaches Justin Turner, Tommy Phelps, and Luis Dorante, and the entire team and employees.

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