In the long summer of the baseball schedule you have a lot of minor victories. Saturday's win to insure that the Flying Tigers would finish their last home stand with a .500 record was one of them.
With the Daytona Cubs (third in the division) and the Dunedin Blue Jays (fifth in the division) coming to town there was a glimmer of hope. Victories would still be a tall order since the roster has been, as you would expect, ravaged with late season promotions.
Audy Ciriaco, Lester Oliveros and Ryan Ketchner jumped to Toledo, while Nolan Cain and LJ Gagnier were the latest to be sent to Erie. The Flying Tigers were going into their conclusion with a young and green lineup and pitching staff. There has been so much turnover this season that only five players from the opening day roster were in Florida to see the finally.
One of the staples of the start of the season was Andrew Hess. Hess saved the best for his last outing. In Saturday's contest against Dunedin he was in complete control, pitching eight innings and allowing a single earned run to cross while striking out five. "Outstanding" raved manager Andy Barkett "he commanded both sides of the plate, he mixed speeds, he was aggressive with his fastball, he did a heck of a job".
Especially since his worst start of the season was only two starts removed. It was important to end the season on a high note. He pitched as well as you could hope by being advantageous of the Dunedin batters aggressive approach at the plate. Out of the 29 batters Hess faced only three saw the count go past five pitches. The vast majority of batters were swinging early and often which fit right into Hess's game plan. The win capped off a 7-11 season for Hess but none of the wins were as big as Saturday's "it was big for our team and it was big for him personally" said Barkett.
It looked like the game was going to go the way the majority of Hess's starts. After allowing an early run the Flying Tigers looked like they weren't going to be able to match it. Then Hernan Perez came to bat and slapped a line drive to the opposite field that found the gap in right. He galloped his way to a triple and was later plated on the next ground out.
Perez had big shoes to fill in his call up. Since his promotion he was moved around the diamond trying to fit his glove into the lineup. When Ciriaco received his promotion Perez was able to take over as the everyday shortstop. One talent evaluator said "he's just as good in the field as Ciriaco" and he didn't disappoint. He routinely shows off his range by going deep in the hole to his right and up the middle. Perez is ultra aggressive on the base paths which he showed when he went from first the third on a bloop single to left and made it easily. At just 18 years old Perez looks like he is a player to remember for next season.
After it took 18 at-bats for Luis Grullon to gain his first hit in the FSL it's no surprise his average is still below the Mendoza line (.184). However Grullon has been on a tear as of late. In his past eight games he has been batting .296 with two doubles and three RBI's. He also showed he could produce in the clutch when he singled to left to move Perez to third. He is one of the biggest players in the locker room standing 6'3 and listed conservatively at 200 pounds. If he can gain a better eye for the strike zone he could be an interesting prospect down the road.
It wouldn't have been a proper ending to the season if the rain didn't make an appearance. Mother Nature started raining on Tuesday which suspended the game that didn't finish till the next day. It worked out well for Chad Linder since he was able to finish the game Mark Sorenson started. Linder tossed three shutout innings in relief while striking out three and not allowing a free pass.
Most importantly he held on to the lead and earned the victory. "It's big anytime you win a game whether you're 50 games over .500 or 50 games below" said Barkett, and the win is especially sweet for Linder. Chad Linder was floundering in the United Ball league after a mediocre career at the University of Texas Pan-American. Since getting picked up Linder has been one of the most versatile pitchers in the Flying Tigers bullpen. He has two saves while amassing a 4-3 record with a 5.40 ERA. Linder needs to improve some of his peripherals but he is the best stories of the season.
It was important for the Lakeland to finish strong. Even though they were eliminated from the playoffs weeks ago they needed a boost before the long off season. "There's no drug, there's no drink and there's no relationship that can really give you the feeling of being a winner" stated Barkett and that's why he managed so aggressively in the final series. Barkett put on double steals and a suicide squeeze to steal a victory out of the clenches of defeat.
Now it's time to get ready for the offseason. Barkett picked up a position managing the Seminole County Naturals of the Florida Winter Baseball league to pass the time. A few of the players from the Lakeland roster will be playing fall ball and instructional league baseball as well. It will all help the progression for a better year next season.