For the fourth time in seven years, the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds are going to the South Atlantic League playoffs. And their ticket was punched in the usual manner.
It took consistent pitching from the starters and the bullpen. Steady, if not always spectacular, defense. Timely hitting from a group of players comfortable with sharing the load.
"It sounds like a cliche," said manager Joe Ferguson, "but that's why it becomes a cliche."
The Shorebirds entered the weekend 43-24 in the second half, clinching the North Division with Friday's 9-7 victory in Lexington. They were 32-38 in the first half and finished seventh in the eight-team field, but started out 18-9 after the break and took over first place July 17.
"Obviously, it was a team effort. There's no doubt about that," said Ferguson, who won the SAL championship in 2000. "Everybody on the ballclub has contributed to our success."
Leads usually fall into safe hands in the late innings. Rommie Lewis, a fourth-round draft pick in 2001 out of Newport (Wash.) High, picked up his 25th save Friday. His streak of 28 scoreless innings ended when Brandon Caraway homered in the ninth. It was the first home run off Lewis this season, and the first run off him since June 24 - a span of 22 appearances.
"This kid could be a very special pitcher someday," Ferguson said. "For him to come into this league with no real experience and dominate as he has, it says a lot about his poise as well as his ability."
Tripper Johnson, a teammate of Lewis' at Newport, was leading the Shorebirds with 70 RBIs heading into the weekend. A supplemental draft pick in 2000, Johnson also had impressed Ferguson with his improved defense at third base.
"Tripper has done a tremendous job this year," Ferguson said. "He had some times this year when he struggled, which you would expect with young players, but he always bounced back. He's really represented himself very well this year."
The Shorebirds' stamina will be tested in the playoffs. They'll meet Hickory tomorrow at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, with no break after today's final regular-season game. They drove 16 hours from Columbus, S.C., for their home series against Lexington last week, then eight hours to Kannapolis and eight more to Lexington. They'll tack on another 12 hours to Salisbury for Game 1 tomorrow, and eight more to Hickory for Game 2 the following night.
Rochester had lost six in a row after being swept by Ottawa in Saturday's doubleheader. The Red Wings' .387 winning percentage was the second worst among Triple-A teams behind Charlotte's .386. ... The Red Wings started out 11-3 at home but finished 30-41 at Frontier Field. ... Howie Clark was named Rochester's Most Valuable Player and the Most Popular Red Wing. The team captain, Clark was batting .315 going into the weekend. He had a chance to finish with the Red Wings' highest average since Sherman Obando hit .330 in 1994. ... Jay Spurgeon fell to 4-14, the most losses by a Rochester pitcher since Larry Jones went 13-14 in 1980. Spurgeon allowed six runs in 4 1/3 innings in Thursday's 7-4 loss to Buffalo. ... Outfielder Darryl Brinkley's 10-game hitting streak ended Thursday. He batted .380 with five doubles, a homer, six RBIs and five stolen bases. Brinkley went into the weekend leading the Red Wings in hits (141), doubles (30) and RBIs (72). ... Rochester avoided being no-hit against Buffalo on Friday on Ryan McGuire's broken-bat single with two outs in the seventh inning.
The Baysox moved out of last place in the Eastern League's Southern Division last weekend. They had occupied the cellar since April 18, a span of 119 days. ... Going into the weekend, second baseman Josh Hoffpauir was batting .320 during his past seven games, with two doubles, a triple and seven RBIs. ... Former first-round draft pick Mike Paradis is tied for the league lead in losses (13). ... Jeff Wilson tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings in relief last week.
The Keys outdrew two major-league clubs, the Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos, on Saturday when 10,572 fans packed Harry Grove Stadium. ... Outfielder Papy Ndungidi went on the disabled list last Monday after leaving an Aug. 13 game with a strained groin muscle. Left-hander Francisco Mejia was promoted from Single-A Delmarva to take his roster spot. Mejia was 5-2 with a 5.00 ERA in 37 games. ... Keys pitchers didn't allow a hit after the second inning of Game 2 of Thursday's doubleheader against Lynchburg. Mejia, Darryll Roque and Rodney Ormond combined for the 1-0 win, with Roque getting the decision and Ormond his seventh save. ... Shortstop Pete Schier continued to swing a hot bat, going 7-for-11 in a four-game series against Lynchburg. ... Third baseman Asdrubal Oropeza was trying to end an 0-for-19 slump.