Big Dogs Carry Portland To Playoffs

PORTLAND—No one's played more games for the Sea Dogs this season nor won more "Big Dog" awards—the latter of which is given to the most valuable player of each game—than Jeff Corsaletti and Andrew Pinckney. So with a playoff berth on the line Tuesday, it was only appropriate that Corsaletti and Pinckney teamed up to lead the Sea Dogs one more time.

Corsaletti snapped out of a slump by hitting a leadoff homer and going 4-for-5 with three runs scored while Pinckney hit two homers, including a solo blast that put the Sea Dogs ahead for good in the third, as Portland halted a late-season skid and beat New Hampshire, 7-4, in a one-game playoff for the final Eastern League playoff spot in front of a crowd of 4,042 at Hadlock Field.

Corsaletti and Pinckney combined to win 27 "Big Dog" awards and played in 246 out of a possible 286 games. "We have done pretty good this year, both of us, and I know I wanted to come out and have a good game today," Pinckney said. "It's potentially the last game and I wanted us to get over the hump. And I'm sure he felt the same way."

The Sea Dogs drenched each other in beer and champagne before boarding an 11 p.m. bus for Trenton, where they'll play the Thunder—the Yankees' Double-A affiliate—in the Northern Division Championship Series for the third straight year. Games One and Two of the best-of-five series will be played at Trenton tonight and Thursday before Games Three and, if necessary, Four are played in Portland Friday and Saturday. A decisive Game Five would be played Sunday in Trenton.

The Sea Dogs beat the Thunder each of the previous two seasons, but they'll be even bigger underdogs this year than last year, when they shocked Trenton in four games before beating Akron in the EL Championship Series.

The Sea Dogs went 10-22 in their last 32 games and, at 71-72, will be the Eastern League's first sub-.500 playoff participant since 1989. But New Hampshire was not much better: The Fisher Cats went 12-17 in their final 29 games and lost their final three regular season games to Trenton to allow the Sea Dogs—who were swept by New Britain by the combined score of 43-22 in a five-game series from Friday through Monday—to back into the one-game playoff Tuesday. A single win over the weekend by the Fisher Cats over the Thunder would have put them into the playoffs.

But the Sea Dogs, who hosted the playoff game because they outscored the Fisher Cats during the season series, wasted no time in taking control Tuesday and never trailed—the first time in seven games they did not have to play from behind. "Guys showed a lot of character today," Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler said. "They bounced back all year and they did it again. That's a big win for us, especially with the way we've been going lately. To come out and swing the bats and do what they've done, they really showed a lot of character tonight."

Corsaletti, who was just 2-for-20 against New Britain and 6-for-38 in his previous 10 games, hit Kyle Yates' third pitch for a homer. "It was a terrible, [expletive] series for me back there," Corsaletti said. "The best thing [a] baseball player can have is short-term memory. And I definitely showed it tonight."

Pinckney's solo homer sparked a two-run, four-hit rally in the third and he added a two-run blast to extend the lead to 5-1 in the fourth. "I saw that guy really good—I've seen that guy a bunch this year," Pinckney said of Yates, who was making his seventh start against the Sea Dogs. "So I kind of knew what was coming."

The Fisher Cats were also familiar with Sea Dogs starter Tommy Hottovy, who was making his fifth start of the season against New Hampshire and battled out of minor jams throughout his five-inning stint to earn the win. Hottovy stranded six baserunners but allowed only one run (a second-inning homer by David Smith) to earn only his fourth win of the season.

"When you have a season that's kind of been up and down like mine—I've been begging for a situation like this," said Hottovy, who missed a month due to forearm soreness and finished with a 5.61 ERA.

The Fisher Cats scored three runs off Hunter Jones in the seventh and sent the potential go-ahead run to the plate in Smith, but Beau Vaughan retired him on a groundout to preserve the 6-4 lead. Vaughan pitched an uneventful eighth before Mike James pitched a one-hit ninth for his 22nd save.


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE.

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