Monday Afternoon in Woodbridge

Potomac turned to Whit Mayberry on two days’ rest and the 26-y.o. veteran responded with seven monster innings as the P-Nats clinched a second-half title with a 3-1 victory.

The midseason pickup threw 79 pitches, 56 for strikes, and struck a career-high nine, getting Cuban cleanup man Yasiel Balaguert three times after the Prince Fielder doppelgänger had tortured Potomac pitchers for eight hits and four RBI over the past three games.

Early on, the P-Nats racked up the hits — three in the 1st, two in the 2nd, one in the 3rd — but the clutch hit was absent as they had just one run to show for it.

They finally broke through in the 5th with a little “help” from the Pelicans pitcher who threw past first base to allow Victor Robles to turn a bunt single into a Little League double, though he might have been able to make it a “triple” had he not done his best imitation of Deion Sanders by spinning around halfway past first base and backpedaling into second base.

Austin Davidson followed with a single to left to send in Robles. MLB rehab Stephen Drew did his best imitation of Robles with an HBP to push Davidson to second and Osvaldo Abreu completed the two-run rally with another single to left.

The two teams traded donuts in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, with Gilberto Mendez following Mayberry and working around a single before giving way to closer (and postseason All-Star) Ryan Brinley in the 9th.

Maybe it was nerves, but the defense was less than steady in the 9th for Brinley, with Bryan Mejia booting a grounder to second for his 26th miscue to open the innings and Austin Davidson bullfighting a two-out grounder to the 5/6 hole that was ruled a single. A subsequent safety to right plated the lone Myrtle Beach run and brought up the go-ahead run.

Light-hitting Jesse Hodges put a charge into the final out but a warning-track flyball is the same as a can of corn in the scorebook as the P-Nats celebrated their third second-half title in the past four seasons.

The win earned Woodbridge nine one less road game, as the Lynchburg Hillcats will have to come to the Pfitz on Wednesday to open best-of-three Carolina League North Divisional Series. Unofficially, it’ll be Matt Esparza (2-4, 3.92) facing off against Potomac’s Boone Whiting (11-3, 3.45).

Monday Afternoon In Woodbridge

It might not have clinched the division (it didn’t) but The season finale for the Potomac Nationals gave the home nine some momentum for the playoffs…and a regular-season finish to remember for a longtime P-Nat.

For five seasons, Brian Peacock has been a part of the Potomac Nationals, his stay extended by a variety of season-ending and season-shortening injuries, ranging from the frightening (drilled in the noggin) to the sublime (hairline fracture of vertebrae via body slam) to the mundane (broken pinky). He’s gone from a 22-year-old hopeful to a 27-year-old “OG,” but a fan favorite for his grit and hustle.

Not to mention, he’s still a decent ballplayer.

Potomac began the bottom of the eighth two innings removed from a seeing a 2-1 lead evaporate (slowly) in the top of the sixth. A double, a walk, and an error loaded the bases for Destin Hood with nobody out. Kinston’s third baseman snagged a liner to the 5/6 hole and beat the runner back to the bag for what seemed like a rally-killer.

But Peacock, the catcher (though he did pitch in a blowout this year) was unfazed and delivered the clutch, two-out hit: a double to right field that plated the tying runs. After a wild pitch, and a Steven Souza single, Peacock would score what would prove to be the game-winning run.

Potomac would pile on three more runs with a steal, a Zach Walters single, and back-to-back doubles by Sandy Leon and Jose Lozada (on a first-pitch fastball, natch) before Cutter Dykstra, who led off the inning with a double, ended it with a grounder to short.

The big inning would make a winner out of Rob Wort, though the first man out of the pen, Trevor Holder, got four key outs and stranded two runners in the 6th inning to keep the game within reach. Hector Nelo got the last three outs in keeping with the LaRussa model of bullpen usage.

With the win, Potomac finishes the second half with a 39-31 mark, same as the Frederick Keys but lost the division title on a tiebreaker. The two teams will meet in the first round for the second straight year with Games One and Two (and five, if necessary) set for Frederick on Wedenesday and Thursday and Games Three and Four (if necessary) slated for Friday and Saturday.

UPDATE: As referenced in the comments, both the Carolina League and the Potomac Nationals official recap are stating that the team has indeed won the second-half title, with the former implying that they won the title outright while the latter clarifying that Potomac and Frederick have tied for the division title. There is also some conflicting data regarding the host of a possible Game 5. I have contacted the league office asking for a clarification.

UPDATE #2: The Carolina League office has confirmed that Frederick will indeed be the host of a Game 5, if necessary.

Monday Afternoon in Woodbridge

Potomac emerges from a wild ninth with a 7-6 win

In another so-called meaningless game, the Potomac Nationals took their fans on a roller-coaster of emotion with a 7-6 win to close out the second half of the 2010 season.

Ahead 5-1 in the ninth, and a rested A.J. Morris on the mound, the game looked like it was in the bag. Except someone forgot to tell Kinston, who got an infield single to third and two singles to center pull within three at 5-2.

Morris would get the next five batters to hit the ball on the ground, none would leave the infield by virtue of the bat, but Kinston would emerge with the lead.

Doug Pickens would be safe on an error by Tyler Moore that the scorekeeper saw otherwise (if at all) to load the bases. The next batter, Donnie Webb, would reach base by virtue of Nicol’s unsuccessful attempt to put out Pickens, the throw sailing past Francisco Soriano into foul territory for a two-base error that saw Webb take third, and three runs come in to score for a 5-5.

The next three grounders to short would result in outs, but Webb was able to score on the second to get the go-ahead run and give Kinston a 6-5 lead.

But this is a veteran Potomac team, an adjective that’s somewhat pejorative with minor-league fan(boy)s, but in this case it simply means they carried themselves like they’ve seen this before.

Derek Norris flew out to right to open the inning, but Bill Rhinhart singled to put the tying run on base, speedster Chris Curran taking his place at first base to score on a long hit that stayed in the park. Tyler Moore, who had homered to open the scoring way back in the second, struck out. Jose Lozada fell behind 0-2 but plunked a single to shallow center to push Curran to second.

Both managers went to their reserves for a better matchup, Potomac summoning Jamar Walton to bat from the left side and Kinston calling for Matt Langwell to replace a tiring Tyler Sturdevant. Like Lozada, Walton fell behind quickly, but battled back to work the count full and then draw the walk to load the bases.

Next came up 26-year-old Robbie Jacobsen, backup catcher, corner infielder, left fielder, and twice this season, bullpen-saving reliever. Again, Langwell got the drop, getting ahead 0-2, but couldn’t get the swinging strike as Jacobsen fouled off the nibbles, and wouldn’t chase the pitcher’s pitches to work the count to 2-2.

The battle ended with a two-out drive to left field that brought in Curran and Lozada, gave the P-Nats a 7-6 win, and secured a winning overall record at 70-69. But perhaps more importantly, the veteran delivered that perceptible-but-immeasurable momentum going into the Mills Cup playoffs against the Frederick Keys, beginning on Wednesday.