Lakeland MLN: Fighting 'Til The End

Entering the week in third place with just three weeks remaining, the Flying Tigers had their work cut out for them this past week. Lakeland's stingy bullpen and clutch hitting kept them in the fight though as they battle for their first playoff berth since 2005.

Walk-Off Winners

The Flying Tigers (30-25) won four out of six games since we last checked in, picking up a game in the standings. Late inning heroics and drama was the theme of the week though as Lakeland walked-off three times in four days.

After losing game one of Wednesday's doubleheader against Daytona, things weren't looking much brighter for Lakeland in the nightcap. Heading into the final frame, the game was tied but the Flying Tigers had mustered just one hit against the Cubs stingy staff.

Enter veteran Wade Gaynor.

The 24-year-old Gaynor launched a two-out solo home run off of Cubs right-hander Eduardo Figueroa to give the Flying Tigers a 1-0 walk-off victory over Daytona.

Fast-forward to Thursday.

Despite leading 4-1 entering the bottom of the seventh and 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs were once again in for a wild ride against a resilient Lakeland squad.

After issuing a leadoff walk to Tyler Collins, Cubs reliever Jeff Lorick surrendered back-to-back singles to Wade Gaynor and Dean Green, loading the bases. After promptly retiring Curt Casali on a shallow fly ball, Lorick gave up a seeing eye single to left field scoring two.

The Flying Tigers were walk-off winners for the second time in 24 hours.

In storybook fashion, Lakeland's magical week continued on Saturday against Dunedin. Trailing 5-0 after the fifth inning, the unsung hero just may have been the bullpen though as they surrendered just three hits over seven shutout innings to keep Lakeland in the game as they chipped away at the deficit.

Down by two runs in the bottom of the ninth, Dean Green tied the score at five with one swing of the bat, launching a two-run homer forcing extra-innings.

In the bottom of the 13th inning, Wade Gaynor would play the role of hero once again as he launched a walk-off home run to left field. The come-from-behind dramatic finish was Lakeland's third walk-off win in four days; completing an amazing week of baseball.

Stellar Relief

As critical as the timely hitting was, the contribution from Lakeland's bullpen was equally impressive this past week.

Southpaw Matt Crouse hurled five innings of shutout ball over three appearances. Crouse issued two walks; surrendered one hit and struck out five over that span. The 22-year-old earned the win on Saturday--his seventh of the year--and lowered his ERA to 1.82 this season.

Former Florida State Seminole Daniel Bennett put together another impressive week on the diamond too. Bennett tossed four innings of scoreless ball, striking out five. The 23-year-old closer also earned his first FSL win on Saturday.

Right-handers Tyler White and Victor Larez logged almost identical lines this past week. Both relievers scattered two hits and allowed a run over 3 2/3 innings. Fellow right-hander Guido Knudson also contributed with 1 2/3 innings of shutout ball.

By the Numbers

10: Luis Angel Sanz is tied for the Florida State League lead with 10 wins. On the flip side, Alex Burgos is tied for the league lead with 10 losses.

34: Tyler Collins clubbed his 34th double of the season on Sunday. The 22-year-old corner-outfielder trails Clearwater's Jim Murphy (36) for the highest tally of doubles this season in the FSL.

53: Despite ranking in the middle of the pack in the majority of pitching categories, the Flying Tigers have done an outstanding job keeping the ball in the yard this season. Collectively the pitching staff has allowed an FSL best 53 homers this season.

83: It's been a season to forget for Alex Burgos; his 83 walks over 113 2/3 innings lead the FSL.

151: James Robbins racked up his FSL best 151st strikeout last week. Relax Jeramy Laster; with just thirteen games remaining, your 2008 record of 200 strikeouts appears to be safe.

265: The Flying Tigers' .265 batting average this season is tops in the FSL.

On Deck

Lakeland travels north to Space Coast Stadium tonight, as they square off against the Brevard County Manatees. Right-hander Drew VerHagen will get the ball in game one of the three game series. Alex Burgos and Luis Angel Sanz are slated to start games two and three for Lakeland on Wednesday and Thursday. This season the Flying Tigers are 7-6 against the Milwaukee Brewers' affiliate.

Friday Lakeland finishes their six game road trip as they travel to Dunedin for a three game set with the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays are 39-20 at home this season and the Flying Tigers have won just two of their previous six games at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

James R. Chipman is the Lakeland Flying Tigers correspondent for TigsTown. Be sure to follow him on twitter @JAYRC_TigsTown.

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