Improved Baysox open playoffs

September 06, 1994|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Writer

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Now it gets serious for the Bowie Baysox.

After five days of sparring with the defending Eastern League champion Harrisburg Senators, the Baysox will try to unseat them in a 1994 playoff series between the league's two best teams.

The best-of-five showdown for this season's Southern Division title starts tonight at Harrisburg's Riverside Stadium, the quaint park on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River.

Bowie (84-58), the division runner-up, appears much better fortified for a run at the crown this time than in 1993 when it lost to Canton-Akron in the semifinals, 3 games to 2.

The Baysox have stronger starting pitching, a deeper bullpen, the top hitting, run-scoring and base-stealing club in the league and a nucleus of players who want to wipe out the memory of last year's Carolina League playoff drubbing by Wilmington when they were members of the Frederick Keys.

Certainly, there won't be any secrets after the two teams finished the regular season with five games against each other.

"Nobody's going to sneak up on anyone," said Bowie first baseman Jack Voigt. "But from what I've seen, it will be a very competitive series."

The addition of outfielder Harry Berrios, a candidate for Minor League Player of the Year, from Frederick will bolster the Baysox's lineup.

Manager Pete Mackanin plans to start him in left field. Berrios batted a combined .343 at Albany (Ga.) and Frederick with 112 runs scored, 107 RBIs, 19 home runs and 56 steals.

"If he's here, why not use him?" asked Mackanin. "Clayton [Byrne] helped us get where we are, but he is not swinging the bat that well right now."

Harrisburg (88-51) does not have the raw talent and power (171 )) homers) or deep starting pitching of last season when it dominated the league even after players like Cliff Floyd, Rondell White and Kirk Rueter moved up to the Montreal Expos.

But the Senators have a resourceful, injury-free team with a knack for clutch hitting and an outstanding bullpen anchored by league save leader Alberto Reyes (35).

"Harrisburg is not as good, not even close," said Baysox infielder Edgar Alfonzo, who is in his ninth minor-league season. "Last year, their team was the best I've ever seen. But they can do a lot of little things to beat you. They know how to play."

Alfonzo, the Bowie shortstop, has been nursing a sore foot but will play.

However, the Baysox will be without one of their Fab Five starting staff, Annapolis native Rick Forney, who is shut down for the season with stiffness in his elbow.

Garrett Stephenson was promoted from the Keys to start last night and may be in line to pitch a decisive Game 5 if the series goes that long.

Mackanin said he may come back with ace Jimmy Haynes "depending on Haynes' pitch count in the first game. If it's not too high, he'll get the start."

Last year with the Keys, Mackanin decided to go with the hot hand (Vaughn Eshelman) in the playoff opener instead of the more talented Haynes . . . and got burned. Eshelman couldn't get out of the first inning and Frederick was crushed by Wilmington, 11-0.

If there was any chance of a repeat, Haynes buried it last week when he struck out 16 Senators (among only 24 outs) in a 3-2 loss at Harrisburg in which he also allowed three bases-empty homers.

"That was the best fastball and curve Jimmy's had all year," said the manager of the tall right-hander who turned 22 yesterday. "When he has that kind of stuff, he can be awesome."

In order, Brian Sackinsky, one-time Oriole hero Scott Klingenbeck and Eshelman will follow Haynes. In the bullpen are three legitimate closers, Armando Benitez, Joe Borowski and Carolina League save leader Chris Lemp, another player promoted from Frederick.

The Baysox are postseason seasoned. Besides the three newcomers from Frederick, only two other players have never been in a playoff.

Mackanin said even last year's playoff drubbing at Frederick "is beneficial. Any experience like that is, whether it's positive or negative. Hopefully, our guys benefited and will want it a little more this time."

BAYSOX PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

BOWIE vs. HARRISBURG (Best of five) Tonight at Harrisburg: Baysox's Jimmy Haynes (13-8, 2.90) vs. Senators' Ugueth Urbina (9-3, 3.28), 7:05

Tomorrow .. .. at Harrisburg .. .. 7:05

Thursday .. .. at Bowie . .. .. .. 7:05

Friday . .. .. at Bowie* ... .. .. 7:05

Saturday .. .. at Harrisburg* . .. 7:05

*-If necessary

Radio: WNAV (1430 AM), WMJS (92.7 FM)

Note: Winner advances to Eastern League championship series against winner of New Haven-Binghamton series.

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