The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs had its 2020 season canceled on June 30, but Southern Maryland Newspapers will continue take a look back at some top games and moments over the franchise’s history.
In today’s edition, we look back at the franchise’s first playoff series win as the Blue Crabs played the Long Island Ducks in the fifth and final game of their Atlantic League divisional series on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009.
Twizzlers are usually the choice of snack for pitcher John Halama while sitting in the dugout after exiting the mound during a game he has started.
The Major League veteran was nearly automatic in each of his starts for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs during the 2009 season, so getting his Twizzlers fix in relaxed fashion helps pass the time while hopeful the bullpen will put the game away.
Game 5 of the Atlantic League divisional series in Long Island, New York was a different story.
Halama was leaning on the top step of the dugout with no need for the Twizzlers as his relief entered in the bottom of the eighth inning with two runners on base and two outs and Southern Maryland leading 7-3 in the deciding game of the five-game series.
Things got a lot more interesting in the bottom of the ninth when Long Island loaded the bases with two outs and Ray Navarrette, one of the most dangerous hitters in the Atlantic League, at the plate.
A two-run single from Navarrette cut the Blue Crabs’ lead to 7-5, but reliever Franklyn Gracesqui got the final out on a strikeout with the winning run at the plate and two outs to end the contest and the series.
Southern Maryland held on to win the best-of-five series 3-2 and advanced to the Atlantic League championship series in the first playoff appearance for the second-year franchise.
The Blue Crabs advanced to play the Somerset Patriots in a series that featured the top two teams in the league during the regular season.
“We’re rolling and have the edge right now,” said Blue Crabs second baseman Mike Just to Southern Maryland Newspapers staff writer Dallas Cogle in the Friday, Oct. 2, 2009 edition. “We’re going to come in with a little momentum even though the first two games are [at Somerset].”
Southern Maryland, who at once had 2-0 series lead, had a 7-0 advantage through 3 1/2 innings in Game 5, scoring three runs in the top of the first and four more in the fourth. Four of the five runs scored by Long Island, in its comeback bid, were unearned.
Just was 3 for 4 with a double, RBI and run scored in the deciding game.
“It was never a certainty,” Just said to Cogle. “Long Island battled and didn’t give up. We were controlled on the field [with our celebration after the game]. We wanted it to look like we’ve done it before. When we got back to the clubhouse, there was champagne everywhere. It was a lot of fun.”
Halama, who went eight innings to win Game 1, tossed 7 2/3 innings towards getting the decision in Game 5.
“We ran out on the field and shook hands,” Halama said to Cogle. “Then we blasted ourselves with champagne in the clubhouse. I don’t know who brought [the champagne], but all of our lockers were covered when we got in there. It’s special because this is a second-year franchise.”
The Blue Crabs won their first-ever playoff game on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009, a 1-0 victory over Long Island at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf.
The lone run of the contest came in the bottom of the first on a Patrick Osborn RBI single to center field that scored James Shanks, who had a broken-bat double two batters earlier that set up the eventual run of the contest. Osborn would be the team’s manager from 2011 to 2013.
Halama, who was 8-1 during the regular season with the Blue Crabs, tossed just 99 pitches in eight innings for the win in what was his first game back after spending some of the 2009 season with the Gwinnett Braves, the Atlanta Braves’ Triple-A affiliate. Closer Mac Suzuki earned the save with a perfect ninth.
“I got the ball in my pocket and we are going to let ownership do what they want with it,” said Southern Maryland manager Butch Hobson to Southern Maryland Newspapers staff writer AJ Mason after Game 1 on the taste of the franchise’s first playoff win.
Game 2 the next night at Regency saw the Blue Crabs jump out to a 5-0 lead through five innings and hold on to win 5-4.
With a run already home in the top of the ninth, Suzuki struck out Nic Jackson to end the game and give the Blue Crabs 2-0 series lead.
Southern Maryland starter Jarrett Grube struck out eight over 5 1/3 innings to get the win. The Blue Crabs had 12 hits on the night, nine more than in Game 1, and were led by Shanks’ 3-for-5 performance with two singles, a triple and three RBIs.
“It comes from working with my hitting coach [Greg Blosser] in the offseason and I got some good pitches tonight to drive the ball,” Shanks said to Mason. “Suzuki came out and pitched a good game for us and our starter went five and you can’t beat that.”
The series shifted to New York where Long Island won Games 3 and 4 on Sept. 26 and 27 to knot the series at 2 games apiece.
The Blue Crabs led 4-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth of Game 3 only to see Long Island score four in that frame to force Game 4 with a 7-4 win.
Southern Maryland trailed 5-0 after one inning in Game 4, but got back in the game with a four-run fourth. The Ducks answered with another five-run inning in the bottom of the fourth and never looked back in a 15-5 win.
The Blue Crabs would take Game 5 to advance to the league championship series, which Somerset won in four games to claim the title.