After a wire-to-wire run in the regular season, the 2014 Potomac Nationals got it done in the postseason with a 5-1 victory over the Myrtle Beach Pelicans to capture the Mills Cup Championship Series, three games to one.
Unlike four years ago, the eventual outcome was apparent early. The first inning to be exact. Tony Renda got the rally started with a one-out walk, which looked like it might go for naught when Shawn Pleffner weakly flied out to left on a first-pitch swing.
Then Mills Cup MVP John Wooten singled to right, sending Renda to third to bring up veteran outfielder Randolph Oduber. Luis Parra couldn’t groove his fastball past the Aruban, but was able to drop a couple of lollipop curves to work the count to 2-2. The third time was not the charm, as Oduber was waiting on that sucker and smashed it over the left field fence for a 3-0 lead.
Hector Silvestre, the lone Potomac pitcher to win twice in the playoffs, faltered in the 2nd, giving up a double to start the frame. The Sea Rats did him a favor and unwisely tried to advance to third on a smash back to the Dominican southpaw, who threw over to get the runner and the first out. He would give it back with a walk to the next batter. After a popup to the no. 8 batter, the Pelicans’ 17-y.o. shortstop Michael De Leon delivered again with an RBI single to cut the lead to 3-1.
Silvestre gave up two more hits in the 3rd but got help from 3B Khayyan Norfork who called his own number for the unassisted putout at third base to end the inning. The 21-y.o. southpaw then retired the next nine batters in a row, finishing with a flourish as he struck out the side in the 6th.
His final line: 6IP, 5H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB, 6K
Meanwhile, Potomac responded to the lone Myrtle Beach run in the bottom of the 2nd with a leadoff double by Stephen Perez and an RBI double by Pedro Severino to reclaim the three-run advantage. They put on single runners in the 3rd and 4th innings, two in the 5th, and another in the 6th but could not score.
Just as he started the P-Nats’ scoring in the 1st, Renda finished it in the 7th. The All-Star second baseman tripled to lead off the inning, then trotted in as fellow All-Star Pleffner singled to short center to push the P-Nats lead to the eventual outcome of 5-1. The big fella would steal second and take third on Oduber’s second hit of the night, a single to right. Norfork, however, would get doubled up to end the inning and Potomac went in order in the 8th.
Manny “Doble Nacionales Codo” Rodriguez took over for Silvestre in the 7th and spun two perfect innings. Though not a save situation, ace reliever Gilberto Mendez was called upon in the 9th close things out and completed the string of 18 straight Pelicans retired with a popup sandwiched between two strikeouts, the last one on a check swing to create just the slightest anticlimax.
The win was the third league championship (2008, 2010) since the team became an affiliate of the Washington Nationals in 2005 and the fifth in franchise history (1982, 1989). The three titles are also the only ones won by a Nationals affiliate north of Florida, a distinction that Hagerstown can take away by winning the South Atlantic League. Game Three of that best-of-five series resumes tonight at the Muni, with hot prospect Reynaldo Lopez scheduled to pitch for the Suns.