Cyclones Quest for Championship Begins Monday

It was in Spring Training that Cyclones starter Evan MacLane was told he would be pitching in Brooklyn come mid-June. MacLane began the season in the South Atlantic League with the Capital City Bombers (A) however knew he would be making the trip north to New York when the Cyclones season started. MacLane was brought to Brooklyn for one reason, and that was to provide some veteran leadership in a starting staff that would be completed with four rookies.

When the playoffs open Monday night at KeySpan Park, MacLane will be on the mound for the Cyclones trying to win the all important first game of the series.

Since 2000 the team that has won the first game of the three games series in the semi-finals and championship round, has went on to win the series 11 of 12 times.

"I am excited and ready" said MacLane, after his 22 pitch tune-up on Friday night. "I came down here for a reason and that was to win in the playoffs, and I fully expect to do that."

MacLane will have his work cut out for him. Tri-City is one of the top offensive teams in the league. They feature the leagues leading hitter in average, the leagues leading hitter in home runs and runs batted in, and the league leader in on-base percentage. Tri-City finished the year third in the league in average (.267), first in the league in home runs with 59, second in the league in runs scored with 415, and second in the league in hits with 693. Combined with all that is the fact that they have won 16 of their last 18 games, and who will be throwing their own ace in Ronnie Martinez who is 11-2 with a 1.96 ERA this season.

"I am just going to pitch my game" said MacLane. "I remember them a little from my last outing. I pitched pretty well, but it just comes down to keeping your focus from pitch to pitch and getting them out with what you got."

"It was the whole combination of things including his leadership and performance" said Cyclones manager Tony Tijerina on the decision to start Devaney. "He is a veteran and has been in this type of situation before. He has done it before in front of the home crowd, so we are just handing the ball to him, and trust that he gets the first win."

MacLane was called up from Kingsport late in the 2003 season to help in the Cyclones playoff run. MacLane started two games for the Cyclones in the playoffs last season and was 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings.br>
MacLane actually pitched very well in his June 24 start against the Valley Cats. Despite getting the loss, he gave up just six hits and one run in six innings of work. The only run of the game he gave up was a solo home run to Ben Zobrist, who also went 3-3 in that game against MacLane.

Zobrist led the NY-Penn League with a .339 average, and has been one of the reasons the Valley Cats have been so successful this season.

He is clearly a Player of the Year candidate" said Tri-City manager Gregg Langben. "Leading the league in hits, playing a steady short stop and being a quiet leader pretty much rounds him up."

Ronnie Martinez faced the Cyclones as well in that same series, however did not have the same luck as MacLane. Martinez lasted just four innings, allowing four runs on six hits, however has been the ace of the starting staff all season.

"He has been a very good starting pitcher to say the least" said Langben. "He is extremely pitch-efficient and attack hitters early on."

This will be the first trip to the playoffs for Tri-City in their three year history of the NY-Penn League.

"It was a pretty exciting year" said Langben. "We stayed in first from the first game of the year to the last game of the year. The last few weeks we have played our best baseball of the season."

"As far as playing Brooklyn, we are very excited to face them. We saw them early on in the season, however facing them in the playoffs will be completely different."

The next two games of the three games series will be played at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, the home of the Valley Cats. Michael Devaney (5-0 1.95) will start for the Cyclones while Raymar Diaz (7-5 3.19) will start for Tri-City in Game 2.

"I am very excited for us to be playing, when 10 other teams are going home" said Devaney. "We saw Tri-City early on and won two out of three but you really can't take anything away from that. We just have to come out and play like we have been playing this week, and come out on top."

"It will be on the road and a playoff atmosphere so that will be something new for me, but I think it will be fun to get that experience under my belt. I just have to pitch my game no matter who is at the plate. If I throw the way I know I can then I know I should be fine."

Diaz also faced the Cyclones earlier in the season and picked up the loss as well giving up four runs in his five plus innings of work.

If needed, Game three will be played Wednesday night with Mike Swindell (4-1 2.69) starting against Andrew Alvarado (4-3 3.58).

"I am really excited about the chance and think we have a good shot at winning" said Swindell. "I am glad to be out there pitching and feel comfortable in knowing if I make the pitches I know I can, I will be successful."

Said Tijerina: "Those are the three pitchers we are counting on to get us to the championship, and then we would play it from there."

The Cyclones are 32-9 when scoring the first run of the game and 37-3 when leading after seven innings. Scoring early and often will be key for the Cyclones who could have a hard time scoring runs late in the games against the Valley Cats bullpen. Rodrigo Escobar anchors the ‘Cats bullpen with his 8-0 record and is 1.33 ERA. Escobar has allowed just 38 hits in 54.1 innings of work while striking out 62 batters.

"Has been our savior all season with the game on the line" said Langben. "He is an aggressive four pitch pitcher that can get any hitter out".

"Our starting pitching has gotten better as the season progressed. Early on in the season our starters had some problem walking hitters, however our bullpen has been our savior all season, and we feel comfortable handing over any lead to them."

The Cyclones and ValleyCats enter the playoff as two of the hottest teams in the league. Tri-City has won 16 of their last 18 games, while Brooklyn has won 5 of their last 6 games. Clearly Tri-City enters with some more momentum, however as it is well known, all the stats erase for the playoffs.

"Our focus has just been exceptional. We just stayed on course and really put some separation in our division" said Langben. "However, all that does not matter come playoff time."

Two weeks ago the Cyclones looked in trouble losing the leagues best defensive and throwing catcher in Aaron Hathaway and losing Dante Brinkley five days later. At the time of their injuries both seemed doubtful for the playoffs, however have fought back and are healthy and ready to go.

"Big credit to our training and medical staff who treated them and got them both back on the field sooner than expected" said Tijerina. "Having a few games for them here to have them see live pitching before the playoffs will be real beneficial for us."

"It feels alright" said Brinkley on his ankle. "We are just trying to take it day to day. If I don't really need to push it in a game then I won't, but if I need to go hard to make a play, then I am ready to do it."

Brinkley put it best and at its simplest form when he said:

"We just got to do what we always do and that it to get on base, move them over, steal bases, and drive them in."

2004 NY-Penn League Playoff Schedule

MONDAY SEPTEMBER 6

Tri-City @ Brooklyn 7:00pm
Auburn @ Mahoning Valley 7:05pm

TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 7

Brooklyn @ Tri-City 7:00pm
Mahoning Valley @ Auburn 7:00pm

WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 8

Brooklyn @ Tri-City 7:00pm (If needed)
Mahoning Valley @ Auburn 7:00pm (If needed)

The NY-Penn League Championship Series will begin on either Thursday September 9, or Friday September 10. If both of the Semi-Final series finish in two games, then September 8 will be an off day, with Game 1 of the Championship series beginning on September 9. If one game goes at least three games, then the Championship Series will begin September 10.

Get Your Tickets

Tickets are still available for Monday's game. To purchase tickets, you can call 718-507 TIXX, visit www.brooklyncyclones.com, or stop by the KeySpan Park Ticket Office. You may also purchase tickets for Games B and C, which could be held if the Cyclones advance to the NY-Penn League Championship Series. In the event that games are not played, fans will be able to receive a refund, or credit their 2005 account. There is a non-refundable two dollar service charge for orders placed by phone or internet.

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