Late-season rally helps LV return to the playoffs
The Lehigh Valley IronPigs made an improbable romp into the playoffs with a late-season stretch that saw them finish off the regular season with a six-game win streak, including sweeping a four-game series against rival Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to finish the season.
The IronPigs were four games behind Rochester for the final playoff spot in the International League with 12 games remaining, and went on a 9-3 run to catch the Red Wings on the second-to-last day of the season. Both teams won their finale, but Lehigh Valley was awarded the wild card by virtue of having won the season series with Rochester.
The Pigs opened the scoring in the bottom of the first, scoring three runs, two of which came on JP Crawford’s 15th home run of the season. Dylan Cozens then drove in a run with a check-swing single that trickled to the left side of the infield to score Christian Marrero, who had walked earlier in the inning and moved to third on a single from Angelo Mora.
“I was just trying to get the runner over,” said Crawford. “I just put a good swing on it and found the barrel, but my main point was just trying to get the runner over and let Stassi or whoever get him in. That’s my job, early in the game especially.”
Marrero delivered an RBI single in the second to put the ‘Pigs up 4-0. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre chipped away starting in the seventh, when Tyler Austin hit his first of two home runs. An inning later, an RBI double from Francisco Diaz made it 4-2. The RailRiders had runners on first and third with no outs in the eighth, but a short flyball and two strikeouts got the IronPigs out of the inning.
International League saves leader Pedro Beato came on to pitch the ninth and gave up a leadoff home run to Austin and allowed Scranton to load the bases with one out. Beato then struck out Jake Cave and got a groundball to end the game and clinch the wild card spot.
Crawford and Beato are an interesting situation for the IronPigs. Crawford is a young prospect who was called up to the majors following the game and won’t be with the team for the playoffs. Beato is a veteran pitcher, who was with the Phillies for a short time this season before suffering an injury and winding up back with the IronPigs. Beato was not called up and will stay with the team for their playoff run.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Beato about not being back in the majors. “This team has been great since the beginning of the season. We lost a lot of guys, and lost a lot of power and most of our best players, but we have a lot of guys coming up that got the job done and that was important.”
Crawford is set to make his major league debut with the Phillies Tuesday night in New York. While the 22-year old, who struggled through a tough first half of the season, would like to experience playoff baseball, he knows there are bigger and better things ahead.
“It was great to help my team win and get to this playoff run,” said Crawford. “They’re going to have to carry on now and I wish them the best. Playoffs are the best time to play baseball, but the big leagues sound much better. I’ve been working at this since I was five or six years old, so now it’s time to go live the dream.”
The playoffs open Wednesday night at Coca-Cola Park, with game two being played Thursday night. The series then shifts to PNC Park in Moosic for game three on Friday and games four and five, if necessary, on Saturday and Sunday.
The winner of that series then plays the winner of the Indianapolis versus Durham series for the Governor’s Cup Trophy, with the league champion facing the Pacific Coast League champion in a one-game championship September 19 back in Moosic.