Aeros gain quick 1-0 series lead
Akron, OH -- Akron starter Paolo Espino combined with two relievers for a three-hit shutout Tuesday night, as the Aeros claimed a 3-0 victory over the Trenton Thunder in the first game of the Eastern League Finals at Canal Park.
With the win, the Aeros (82-59, 4-2) take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series. Akron had lost the first two games of the previous series against the Bowie Baysox.
“A good first win is a big advantage,” said Espino, “but I was trying to get all the pressure out of myself and I think it went well today.”
Espino (1-1, 3.18) threw seven shutout innings to earn his first win in the playoffs. He struggled with command early on, walking four and hitting another, but allowed just two base hits.
“Later in the game, I felt my command was coming back,” said Espino. “My offspeed pitches were working well. Most of all, the run support the team was giving me, that’s a relief for you and makes you feel more comfortable when you’re on the mound.”
Trenton took advantage of Espino’s wildness to put together its biggest threat of the night in the top of the fourth, loading the bases with one out after two walks and a hit batsman. After a visit to the mound by Akron Aeros pitching coach Tony Arnold, Espino struck out Tyler Austin and induced a pop-up to work out of the jam.
“Tony came and talked to me for a little bit, calmed me down,” said Espino. “I think I was in a rush, trying to go too quick. So that helps a little, I just took a deep breath and tried to control myself and it worked.”
Akron, seeking the fourth championship in franchise history, got on the board in the bottom of the fourth with two runs against Trenton starter Brett Marshall (0-2, 4.85). After back-to-back singles by center fielder Tyler Holt and designated hitter Chun Chen to start the inning, Marshall threw a pair of wild pitches, the second allowing Holt to score the first run of the game. Chen also scored on a sacrifice fly by second baseman Matt Lawson.
The Aeros extended the lead to 3-0 in the sixth when Holt tripled to right and scored on a double by Chen.
“We don’t feel stressed, we don’t feel pressure, we don’t feel we have to win,” Holt said. “We just come in loose ready to play…Honestly, we’re just doing the same thing we’ve done all season.”
Espino, however, believes that nailing down the first win puts the team in a good position for the rest of the series.
“When we lost the first two games [against Bowie], everybody was kind of down,” said Espino. “Everybody is really happy and everybody is playing really relaxed. I think we have a chance of winning the championship.”
Espino handed the ball to right-hander Shawn Armstrong, who worked a perfect eighth. Eastern League saves leader Preston Guilmet came on and worked around a baserunner in the ninth to secure his third postseason save.
“He’s done a great job all year,” said Akron Aeros manager Chris Tremie. “In that role, it’s a pressure situation. He thrives on that and throws strikes, gets them to chase that split-finger.”
Holt and Chen each had two hits for the Aeros. Holt is hitting .350 in the playoffs after posting a .250 average in 55 regular season games at Double-A. First baseman Jesus Aguilar went down swinging three times on the night and is hitting just .150 in the playoffs.
“I think that tonight he just wanted to do well so bad,” said Tremie. “He’s a fiery guy with a lot of confidence in himself and I just think tonight he chased some pitches out of the zone. I think he’ll learn a lot from tonight’s at-bats.”
The Aeros and Thunder will play game two of the series at Canal Park on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. Lefty Shaeffer Hall (0-0, 0.00) will start for Trenton against Akron right-hander Danny Salazar (0-0, 3.38).
Notes: Roberto Perez had a hit and a walk to raise his postseason batting average to .353. … Announced attendance: 1,620.
Nathan Kemp graduated from The University of Akron in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. He plans to pursue a graduate degree through NEOMFA in the fall. Follow him on Twitter @NathanCKemp.