Lakeland MLN: Playoff Bound Flying Tigers

Despite suffering three consecutive losses to begin the week, the Flying Tigers (37-29) collected themselves, winning their final three games to capture their first playoff berth since 2005.

Bad Day Against Brevard County

After yet another rainout last Tuesday, the Flying Tigers hosted the Brevard County Manatees on Wednesday. Winners of seven straight against Brevard County, the doubleheader appeared to be a great chance for Lakeland to distance themselves from the pack. Unfortunately, history did not repeat itself and Lakeland was in for a long painful day.

Lakeland Right-hander Drew VerHagen was chased in the third inning of the first game after allowing six base runners and surrendering four earned runs. Manatees' right-hander Drew Gagnon baffled the Flying Tigers' bats; tossing seven innings of shutout ball, striking out seven and earning the victory by a score of 6-0.

In similar fashion, the Manatees jumped ahead early, putting up three runs on Lakeland in the first inning. Lakeland right-hander Cesar Carrillo would settle down, allowing just one more run over his six innings of work. Unfortunately, the Flying Tigers bats remained silent, as Manatees' pitching allowed just one run and struck out ten over seven in the seven-inning affair.

Triumphant Against Tampa

The Flying Tigers hooked up with the Tampa Yankees for a pivotal four-game series this past weekend. With just four games left, four teams remained mathematically eligible to clinch the remaining playoff spot. And with the division rival Yankees visiting Joker Marchant Stadium; Lakeland had some control over their destiny on their home turf.

The Flying Tigers took a 3-0 lead to the ninth inning and the game appeared to be in the bag, as reliever Daniel Bennett struck out the first batter and recorded the second out of the inning after allowing a weak single. Two consecutive singles posed a threat, prompting Manager Dave Huppert to go to the pen, bringing in southpaw Matt Crouse to record the final out of the game. Despite not allowing a single run for over 17 innings, Crouse would allow a run on a single and a heartbreaking game deciding grand slam to left field. The Flying Tigers would fight back in the final frame, tacking on a run. However, Lakeland fell short, as they lost game one by a score of 5-4.

After the deflating loss on Thursday, Lakeland was given the news that New York Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez would be joining the Tampa Yankees for a rehab assignment. The Flying Tigers pitching staff refused to be intimidated by the future Hall of Famer though. Rodriguez was 0-for-7 with four strikeouts during his two-game rehab stint.

After pulling out a 7-6 nail biter win on Friday, the Flying Tigers put the pedal to the floor, routing Tampa 8-1 on Saturday and 6-0 Sunday morning. For the first time since 2005, the Flying Tigers were division champions and playoff bound.

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

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