- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
These playoffs started just the way they ended last year for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs and the Long Island Ducks.
The Blue Crabs succumbed to playoff archrival Long Island in Wednesday’s Game 1 of the Liberty Division Championship Series by a 6-2 outcome, faltering at the same Ducks’ Bethpage Ballpark in New York that yielded their postseason-ending loss a year ago in the deciding Game 5 of that divisional round.
Meanwhile, reigning Atlantic League champion Long Island prevailed again at home in the playoffs after doing so in dramatic fashion last year with last at-bat Game 5 victories, sending a crushing 5-4 defeat to the Blue Crabs with three eighth-inning runs in that deciding contest of the divisional series before winning the league championship series over regular season top club Lancaster with a walk-off bunt single in the ninth.
Thursday’s Game 2 in the best-of-five divisional series finished too late for inclusion into this edition. The Blue Crabs were hopeful of splitting the first two games in Long Island before returning home to Waldorf’s Regency Furniture Stadium for the final three games of the series, the latter two if necessary.
Game 3 starts at 7:05 tonight, with Game 4 slated for 6:35 p.m. Saturday and Game 5 scheduled for 2:05 p.m. Sunday.
“I don’t want to call [Game 2] a must-win because we have three games in our place, but it would be a really good momentum swing for us [to win Game 2],” Blue Crabs center fielder/hitting coach Jeremy Owens said Wednesday night after Game 1.
He and teammate Nick Schwaner each supplied solo home runs in Game 1 to account for both Blue Crabs runs.
Owens added, “I hope that sense of urgency comes on our guys [for Game 2]. I don’t care who you’re playing or what your history is, trying to beat a team three straight is not easy.”
That “history” was already not in the Blue Crabs’ favor after Game 1, whatever the outcome to Game 2 was.
Wednesday marked the fourth straight year the Blue Crabs have dropped Game 1 of the divisional series, the last three postseasons at the hands of nemesis Long Island. In each instance, the Blue Crabs have gone on to lose the series.
The only time the Blue Crabs were successful in opening the playoffs occurred in 2009, as a second-year franchise, in their first Game 1 when they beat Long Island and went on to claim that divisional series in five contests en route to making their only appearance in the league championship series, which they lost in four games to Somerset.
“We always have hope. We’re not going to give up because we lost the first game,” Blue Crabs manager Patrick Osborn said after Wednesday’s divisional opener, not subscribing to the notion that losing Game 1 would result in déjà vu playing out in the series. “You’d like to win Game 1. It makes it tougher if you lose, but you still have to win three games no matter what [to clinch the series]. I don’t know what [Long Island] feels, but I’m confident.
“Every year is different. You can’t compare this year to last year or the year before. We’ve just got to stay upbeat and come out tomorrow and play good baseball.”
Last year, the Blue Crabs lost Games 1 and 2 at home to Long Island to start the divisional series and were five outs away from winning three straight on the road in what would have been an epic turnaround in that 2012 playoff matchup.
Brownell does well
Wednesday’s Game 1 featured a far-less thrilling ending between the clubs.
Long Island starting pitcher John Brownell captured the Game 1 spotlight as he continued doing what he did best in the Atlantic League during the regular season.
The righty tossed a complete game to open these playoffs after leading the league in going the distance on the mound during the regular season with seven such showings. No other pitcher in the league had more than four complete games in the regular season.
This latest complete game from Brownell was most memorable as he set a Long Island playoff record with 12 strikeouts against a surging Blue Crabs offense to end the regular season, walking just one batter and scattering seven hits.
Brownell, 3-2 against the Blue Crabs during the regular season, got stronger on the mound as Game 1 wore on.
After Owens’ solo homer with one out in the fifth to cut the Long Island lead to 3-2, Brownell retired the next 10 batters through the eighth and 14 of the last 16 to give his Ducks a 1-0 lead in the series.
“We just got beat tonight, fair and square,” Osborn said. “Brownell threw the ball really well, you have to give him credit.”
Owens added, “I don’t want to take anything away from Brownell. We had seven hits tonight that were kind of scattered. We were not able [to bunch together] our hits. All in all, we hit the ball. It was just one of those games we just didn’t get the big hit, back to back. [Brownell] did a nice job, but we weren’t committed to our [hitting] approach.”
Long Island answered Owens’ shot with solo blasts of its own in the fifth and sixth from Bryant Nelson and Adam Bailey, respectively, to cushion the lead to 5-2. The Ducks added one more insurance tally in the eighth on three straight two-out singles.
Blue Crabs third-hole batter Schwaner, signed to the team earlier this month, delivered a leadoff homer in the fourth to tie the game at 1.
But as it did all night, Long Island had a trumping response in the bottom of the fourth by scoring twice on a Ramon Castro sacrifice fly and a Ryan Strieby RBI single.
Blue Crabs starting pitcher Gaby Hernandez lacked his usual effectiveness that made him one of the league’s best hurlers since the start of August. Long Island roughed him up for five runs, all earned, on eight hits in six innings. He fanned five and walked one.
“He actually threw the ball pretty well,” the Blue Crabs manager said of Hernandez. “The first run scored they scored [came with two outs in the second] when Jeremy [Owens] lost the ball in the sky [on a Strieby double]. That was a fluke thing.
“You have to tip your cap to them. Every time we answered, they had a better response.”