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Playoff Recap: 9/9

September 10, 2008
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Thunder Claim Game 1 3-1, Lead Series 1-0
Game 2 Wednesday at Canal Park

AKRON, OH – Trenton scored the two deciding runs in the top of the sixth and the Aeros were unable to answer late, falling to the Thunder 3-1 in game one of the Eastern League Championship Series before 3,327 fans at Canal Park Tuesday. Akron will look to even the best-of-five series Wednesday evening at 7:05 p.m.

Trenton struck first with a run in the first off Aeros starter Kevin Dixon, who was pitching for the first time since September 1st after not being needed in the first round triumph over Bowie. An understandably rusty Dixon walked two of the first three hitters, and Chris Malec then capitalized with a smash to center that ricocheted off the glove of a diving Josh Rodriguez at second base, scoring Reegie Corona and making it 1-0.

Akron answered in the third, as Wyatt Toregas worked a leadoff walk from Trenton starter Eric Hacker and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Brandon Chaves. Rodriguez then knotted the score at 1-1, driving an RBI double to right-center.

The tide would turn in the sixth however, as a double from Ramiro Pena and a single from Austin Jackson put runners at second and third to start the inning. Malec delivered a sacrifice fly to put Trenton back in front by a run, and after a groundout and a walk, Francisco Cervelli lined an RBI single to center on the first pitch from reliever Erik Stiller to make it 3-1. The Aeros managed to get the tying run to the plate in each of the final three innings, but couldn’t come through with the big hit to chip away at the deficit.

Hacker (2-0) earned the win with a quality start, limiting Akron to just a run on three hits in six innings (the Aeros had only four hits in the game). Dixon (0-1) suffered the loss, allowing three runs on five hits in 5.2 innings while walking four and striking out four. Left-hander Michael Dunn worked 1.1 innings of hitless relief for Trenton, and Jhonny Nunez followed by recording the last five outs for his second save. Stephen Head led the offense with a 3-4 effort, while Rodriguez was 1-3 with a walk and the RBI double.

Game two in this best-of-five series is set for 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at Canal Park, with J.D. Martin (0-1, 5.40 ERA) going for Akron and Christian Garcia making his first start of the playoffs for Trenton. The game broadcast begins at 6:50 p.m. on SportsRadio 1350 AM and online at www.akronaeros.com.

2008 K-Tribe Wrapup

A rough start and an even rougher finish doesn’t tell the whole story of the roller coaster ride of a season that was 2008. In between the first and final months of the season, the K-Tribe was one of the best teams in the Carolina League riding high behind Carolina League MVP Beau Mills, All-Star infielder Niuman Romero and some improved young pitching. The K-Tribe finished the season with a 72-66 overall record, the third best in the Carolina League, but an end of August stretch where the K-Tribe lost 11 of 13 games ended Kinston’s playoff hopes and kept Kinston out of the post season for the first time since 2000.

Maybe it was foreshadowing a crazy year as the K-Tribe’s 2008 campaign did not start off well, or for a time at all. Kinston’s season opening series against Winston-Salem at Historic Grainger Stadium was delayed, postponed and cancelled. Game one was suspended in the third inning, when a city wide power outage turned the lights out. The last two games of the series did not happen due to rain. When the season finally got underway, Kinston’s youth showed, especially on the mound. The K-Tribe started the season with the youngest team in recent memory, including a starting pitching staff with an average age of 21. Kinston won just eight games in the month of April, wrapping up the month with the Carolina League’s worst record. The K-Tribe was never mired in a long losing streak (they did not lose more than three games in a row in April), but they couldn’t string together any wins. Kinston did not win consecutive games until the 28th and 29th of April. It wasn’t how you wanted to find certain facts out, but Kinston’s awful April gave time to look back at how dominant Kinston clubs had been in the first half of the season over the last half decade. Kinston’s 8-15 April record was the first losing month for the K-Tribe since July of 2005. Potomac’s sweep of Kinston in the second weekend of April was the first time Kinston had been swept in the first half of a Carolina League season in more than five years. Kinston had not even lost three games in a row in April in the last five years.

The K-Tribe’s 8-15 start and league high 4.49 ERA in April was quickly forgotten with some great play in May and June. Kinston won 17 games in each of the two months, winning the second most games of any team in the Carolina League over that same span. The K-Tribe moved into second place in the Carolina League Southern Division on May 26th, but had dug too deep of a hole to catch Myrtle Beach. The Pelicans ran away with the Southern Division first half title, as Kinston was denied a first half championship for the first time since 2003.

The first half had plenty of great highlights, including the Mid-Season All-Star selections of Steven Wright, Josh Tomlin, Niuman Romero and Luis Perdomo. Perdomo, Kinston’s closer, dominated the Carolina League in the first half racking up a 3-1 record with a 0.92 ERA and a League high 18 saves. Perdomo also picked up the save at the All-Star game as the Carolina League beat the California League 3-1 at Myrtle Beach. It was the beginning of a crazy year for Perdomo who was called up to Akron after the All-Star Break then traded to St. Louis a month later. Steven Wright, the only experienced starter in the K-Tribe’s rotation, looked great going 2-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 14 starts before getting a call up to Akron before the All-Star Game. Niuman Romero took advantage of a chance to play every day and turned it into a career season. Romero played just eight times and hit .185 in April, but an injury on the Kinston infield put him into a starting role and he responded. Romero hit .303 in May on his way to a .296 batting average on the season (the 5th best batting average in the CL) with a career high six home runs and 53 RBI. Romero put together a 21 game hit streak from June 22nd to July 21st, hitting an astounding .440 during the run. It ended up as the longest hit streak in the Carolina League for 2008. K-Tribe pitcher Josh Tomlin went from the bullpen to the starting rotation to the bullpen, but always dominated on the mound for Kinston. Tomlin ended the season 9-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 40 appearances (nine starts). Tomlin had an unbelievable 109 strikeouts to 16 walks in 102.2 innings.

Kinston starting pitcher Hector Rondon was a great example of the K-Tribe’s young pitching staff developing and turning the Indian’s season around. Rondon recovered from a 0-2 record and a 5.57 ERA in April to turn in an 11-6 mark with a 3.60 ERA by the end of the season. Rondon ended the season fourth in the Carolina League in wins, second in strikeouts (145) and eighth in ERA. Rondon was also chosen for the MLB Futures Game during the big league All-Star Break in New York. Rondon pitched a perfect inning at Yankee Stadium during the World’s victory over the USA futures. The K-Tribe’s Carlton Smith rebounded from an up and down first half to end up winning 12 games, tied for the most in the Carolina League. Kinston’s Jeanmar Gomez saved his best month for last going 2-1 with a 1.74 ERA in six starts in August.

With improved play, Kinston started the second half of the season poised to capture a playoff spot and bolted out into first place. Kinston first baseman Beau Mills led the charge and would end the season as the Carolina League MVP, just the 7th time a Kinston player had captured the honor. It was well deserved as Mills ended the season with 21 home runs, tied for the most in the Carolina League. Mills also finished 2nd in the Carolina League in RBI (90), 3rd in extra base hits (58) and slugging percentage (.506), 4th in hits (141) and 8th in batting average (.293). Mills also knocked down some K-Tribe records on his way through the MVP season. Mills tied the overall franchise record with 34 doubles and got into the K-Tribe record books with the 3rd most RBI ever and 4th best total base mark (244). Mills numbers would have been even more impressive, but he did not play in the last eight games of the season because of a quad injury.

As the last month of the season came, the K-Tribe was in a tight fight with Winston-Salem for the Wild Card spot as Myrtle Beach was running away with a second half title. Kinston seemed to cement their playoff hopes, by rattling off eight wins in a row from August 7th – August 15th. It was the longest win streak for Kinston since the 2004 season and put them 3 ½ games ahead of third place Winston-Salem with 15 games to play. The K-Tribe, however, followed their eight game win streak with an eight game losing streak from August 16th – August 23rd. The skid was the longest by a K-Tribe team in more than five years and coincided with a Winston-Salem hot streak, knocking Kinston out of the final playoff spot. Kinston ended up losing 11 of 13 games at the end of August as Winston-Salem ended up winning 11 of 15. With four games left in the regular season Winston-Salem wrapped up a playoff spot, keeping Kinston out of the post season for the first time since 2000. The seven year run was the longest playoff streak in Carolina League history.

Back on the field, Beau Mills, Niuman Romero and Luis Perdomo (even though Perdomo did not play a game for Kinston in the second half) all earned end of season All Star Selections from the Carolina League. Late season pick up Carlos Santana, a catcher traded from the Los Angeles Dodgers organization for big leaguer Casey Blake, immediately impressed hitting .352 with six home runs and 34 runs scored in just 29 games with the K-Tribe. Santana made such an impression in the California League, his home before the trade, that he was voted the California’s League MVP even though he did not play their the last month of the season. Santana’s combined stats were unbelievable as he led all of Minor League Baseball with 125 runs scored and was second with 117 RBI. Kinston speedster Lucas Montero ended up with 60 stolen bases between Low A Lake County and Kinston, the sixth most in all of Minor League Baseball.

Although the K-Tribe’s record setting playoff streak ended at seven consecutive years, the youngest Indian’s team in recent memory gave the K-Tribe fans a lot to cheer about. The K-Tribe ended the season with a 72-66 overall record, the third best in the Carolina League and the most wins by an Indians team not to make the playoffs since 1989.

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