Archive for September 13th, 2008

“You Witnessed A Major League Center Fielder Tonight”

September 13, 2008

Big time players step up in big games.

Future major leaguers just go ahead and steal the show.

Austin Jackson had a game for the ages tonight, hitting a long home run in the first inning and robbing the Aeros of two bombs of their own.  He also made another outstanding play on a ball hit to the left center field gap.

I asked Jackson if he could remember having a better game.

“Maybe last year against Portland, when I came up here.  I thought I had a pretty good game then,” said Jackson with a smile.

It was against the Sea Dogs during last year’s postseason where he made two game-saving throws from center field in extra innings during a game at Waterfront Park.

But as for tonight, he also made quite the contribution on the offensive side, depositing the first pitch he saw off of Ryan Edell well over the left field wall.

“I wasn’t looking for any certain pitch,” Jackson said.

“I was thinking if it’s a pitch over the plate and you can handle it, take a swing at it.”

But all anyone in the clubhouse wanted to talk about were his highlight-reel defensive plays.

“You witnessed a Major League center fielder tonight,” said Thunder manager Tony Franklin.

“It doesn’t get any better than that.  That’s what Major League center fielders do, they make plays like that.  They make them in the park, they make them outside of the park, they make them running to the left or to the right.  Deep, short.  He played a heck of a game.  I think you can see why people feel he’s going to be quite a baseball player at the Major League level.”

Someone perhaps even more appreciative of A-Jack’s efforts was George Kontos, who managed to escape the fifth inning with only one run against him instead of the three that would have scored had Jackson not robbed Matt Whitney of a home run.

“There are guys in the big leagues who can’t make the plays he made tonight,” Kontos said.

“I’m glad he was the guy that was out there tonight.”

Kontos pitched well for the first four innings, but struggled a bit in the fifth before being removed just one out away from a postseason victory.  Not having pitched since August 31st didn’t help.

“I felt a little rusty, is basically what it was,” he said.

“I felt like all my pitches weren’t as crisp as they would have been if I was throwing on a fifth or sixth day like normal.  I just felt like my fastball was a couple ticks down, and I felt like I was feeling too much on both of my breaking balls.  And the feel for my changeup wasn’t really there.  But when your stuff isn’t there, you’ve still got to pitch.  That’s when you focus on location, and that’s what got me through the first four and two thirds innings.”

The bullpen was outstanding yet again for the Thunder, with Anthony Claggett, Mike Dunn and Jhonny Nunez combining to allow only two baserunners over the four and a third innings they pitched.

“I thought we got some great pitching from our bullpen,” Franklin said.

“Claggett was just huge for us out there.  He hasn’t had a chance to pitch a lot lately, but he gave us a big lift with two and a third innings.”

Claggett was, in fact, outstanding.  He allowed just one hit and looked as good as he has all year.

“I felt really good,” Claggett said.

“The stuff was sharp, and I was hitting my spots.  I don’t know if I could have done much more.”

But the story of the night was Austin Jackson, and Claggett was quick to add on to the compliments for his center fielder.

“That kid’s amazing,” he said.

“You’re going to see him in the big leagues for a long time.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Thunder Win Game 3, Take 2-1 Series Lead

September 13, 2008

It’s Austin Jackson’s world, we’re all just living in it.

Post-game quotes and info from the clubhouse coming later tonight after the Thunder’s 4-1 win over Akron to give them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five Eastern League Championship Series.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

ELCS Game 3: Akron @ Trenton

September 13, 2008

ELDS Game 3 – Akron Aeros @ Trenton Thunder
September 13, 2008
Waterfront Park – Trenton, NJ

Pitching Matchup: AKR Ryan Edell vs. TRE George Kontos

Starting Lineups:

Akron

1 – Rodriguez
2 – Sardinha
3 – LaPorta
4 – Hodges
5 – Head
6 – Toregas
7 – Whitney
8 – Panther
9 – Pinckney

Trenton

1 – Corona
2 – Pena
3 – Jackson
4 – Malec
5 – Curtis
6 – Pilittere
7 – Cervelli
8 – Gonzalez
9 – Russo

Pre-Game Notes: The big news tonight was that Jason Jones is in the bullpen and may not make his Game 5 start if it gets that far. Eric Hacker would get the start instead.

Hacker will also not be starting Game 4, which was an option considering the rainout would have him going on regular rest.

Radio Links: Click here for the links to each team’s broadcast.

Live Box Score: The MILB.com direct link is here.

In-Game Updates (LIVE from the ballpark): Austin Jackson crushed a first pitch offering well over the left field wall in the first, giving Trenton a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st.

The ballpark hasn’t been this empty since the Thunder’s ill-fated “Win A Date With Mike Ashmore” promotion.  Still, not a bad crowd for a postseason game…definitely better than what it was for the Portland series, actually.  1-0, Thunder.  B2.

Austin Jackson just brought a Wes Hodges home run back into the ballpark.  What a night he’s having.  The Thunder still cling to a 1-0 lead, B4.

Kevin Russo just legged out an infield single that drove home a run to make it 2-0, B4.  Akron’s manager Mike Sarbaugh just came out and made a pretty significant stink about the call…but Russo did appear safe, and there’s only one out, so the run scores either way.

Reegie Corona then had the ever-riveting sac fly to give the Thunder a 3-0 lead, still in B4.

Austin Jackson DID IT AGAIN, robbing another home run off of Matt Whitney’s bat in T5.  It would have tied the game at three, but now there’s runners on the corners with one out.  The runner advanced to third on the play, and now the Thunder are appealing that he left early.  Tony Franklin’s out to discuss it with the umpire.

A-Jack is putting on a clinic.  This is the best game I’ve ever seen him play.  Nathan Panther drove a ball deep to the left center field gap, and Jackson ran it down with ease.  But the run scored, and it’s now 3-1 with two outs, T5.

Dave Schofield got a GREAT shot of the first Jackson catch, which is on the Thunder website.

Kontos out after 4.2 innings, Anthony Claggett coming in.  Sucks Kontos can’t pick up the win, but he had a pretty shaky 5th inning.

One pitch to Josh Rodriguez, and Claggett induces a pop-up.  3-1, Thunder, B5.

Neither starter lasts five.  A Colin Curtis two-out single knocks Edell out of the game.  Erik Stiller now in for the Aeros.

4,575 fans here tonight.  Not bad.  3-1 Thunder, B7.

Reid Santos in for Stiller with one out in the seventh.

We’re through seven.  Nice job in relief by Claggett, but now Mike Dunn’s coming in.  Amazing how Dunn went from a kid who debuted in Double-A in the last game of the year and is now one of the most trusted relievers on the staff.  He’s played a big, big role here in the postseason.

Dunn got a 4-6-3 DP to get out of the 8th.  Thunder up 3-1, B8.

Santos out after a Pilittere double down the left field line with one out.  Akron brings in The Rock’s favorite pitcher, Scott “Know Your” Roehl.  We’ve also got a Coop sighting.  James Cooper to pinch-run for Pilittere.

Cooper scores on a single through the left side by Edwar Gonzalez.  4-1, B8.

Heeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Jhonny (Nunez) to close this one out in the top of the 9th.  4-1, T9. 

In-Game Photo Gallery:

Matt LaPorta shares a laugh before he takes his cuts in BP.

T.J. Burton going the extra mile to sign an autograph

Brandon Chaves

James Cooper

Reegie Corona cooling off before the game

Matt LaPorta…guess what’s missing in the picture?

LaPorta at the plate

Johnny Jhonny Nunez

Josh Rodriguez

In-Game YouTube VIDEOS: Matt LaPorta BP VIDEO, Austin Jackson Pre-Game Intro VIDEO, George Kontos VIDEO, Matt LaPorta VIDEO, Chris Malec VIDEO, George Kontos VS. Matt LaPorta VIDEO, Jhonny Nunez vs. Matt Laporta VIDEO

Around The Eastern League: Remember Harrisburg’s Garrett Guzman?  Well, so do the cops…

Final Score: 4-1, Thunder.

Post-Game Notes: The Thunder go into tomorrow’s game with a chance to win back-to-back Eastern League championships.

Thunder Thoughts: This is the 101st game I’ve covered this year (my 51st here), and the 500th of my professional career.  Thanks to everyone on the Thunder who has helped me along the way, and to the many readers I’ve been fortunate enough to have throughout my career.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Around the EL: Matt LaPorta

September 13, 2008

There are many reasons to come out to Waterfront Park tonight for Game 3 of the Eastern League Championship Series.

But one of the better ones has got to be the chance to see one of the game’s elite prospects, Akron’s Matt LaPorta.

LaPorta was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time before last night’s game rainout, and here’s how it went down…

Mike Ashmore: It’s been quite a year for you…you got traded for one of the best pitchers in baseball, you got to play in the Futures Game and the Olympics, and now you’re playing for an Eastern League Championship.  Have you had the chance to kind of step back and wrap your ahead around this season yet?

Matt LaPorta: “A little bit.  It’s been a great year, and an exciting one too.  There’s been a lot of things that have happened to me this year that probably don’t get to happen to a lot of people in baseball, and I’m very thankful for that.  I’ve been blessed.  I think after the season is done, I’ll have a chance to sit down and really reflect on the things that I’ve accomplished and some of the things that have happened to me this year.”

Ashmore: I’d imagine the Olympics are probably the freshest in your mind right now, tell me about that experience…

LaPorta: “It was a great experience.  China did a great job of hosting the Olympics.  We had a great time, and I met a lot of new people out there who are now friends.  Getting to win the bronze medal was a great experience for me.”

Ashmore: Outside of what you were trying to accomplish over there, it seemed to be one of the more discussed Olympic Games in recent years with Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps and USA Basketball and so on.  Did you get to see any other events outside of the ones you played in?

LaPorta: “I didn’t get a chance to go to too many other events.  Baseball was going on at the same time as a lot of the track and a lot of the swimming events.  But at the village, they’d always keep you updated with what was going on and show some of the highlights.  So I had the opportunity to watch those.”

Ashmore: At the Futures Game, you got to play at Yankee Stadium.  What was it like getting the chance to play there before they close it down in about a week or so?

LaPorta: “It was the first time that I’d ever been there with my dad, and he got to watch me play at Yankee Stadium.  It was the first time he’d ever been there.  It was a pretty unique experience to be able to go out there and do that.”

Ashmore: You’re considered one of the elite prospects in the game, but you were surrounded by a lot of guys who carry that same status.  Was it kind of interesting for you to get to share a clubhouse and a field with some of them and get to know them a little bit?

LaPorta: “Definitely.  It’s always a great chance when you get the opportunity to play with some of the best baseball players in the United States or in professional baseball and just get to rub shoulders with them and get to know them a little bit better.  I’m thankful.”

Ashmore: A lot of guys talk about how much of an adjustment it is between the different levels of the minor leagues, but the trade from the Brewers to the Indians sent you to a different league at the same level.  Was there any adjustments that you had to make as a result, or is it pretty much the same thing?

LaPorta: “It’s not really difficult.  Double-A is Double-A no matter where you go, probably.  The Akron Aeros did a great job of really accepting me as a teammate, and I’m really pleased with the way they treated me so far.”

Ashmore: What was it like getting thrown from one playoff race to another?

LaPorta: “It was great.  Being over in Huntsville, we were in the playoff race as well, so coming over here, it wasn’t new being in the playoff race, but I was glad to go to a team that was in the playoffs.”

Ashmore: I’m obviously not the first person to ask you about the CC Sabathia trade…but I’d be curious to know what went through your mind when you found out about being involved in a deal like that.

LaPorta: “Well, it’s just another opportunity to play for another baseball team.  It’s going to work out great.  I’m excited for the Brewers, they got such a great player in CC.  I’m excited for them to see what they do with the rest of this year.  I’m looking forward to my career as an Indian.”

Ashmore: Were any thoughts along the lines that there might be an opportunity to get to the big leagues more quickly with this organization?

LaPorta: “No.  I’ll get to the big leagues in my time and whenever the team feels there’s a need for me to be up there.”

Ashmore: Is that a sort of goal that you put a timetable on?

LaPorta: “No, there’s no set goal.  I can only take care of going out and playing hard every day and getting better every day.  The rest will fall into place.”

Ashmore: What have your thoughts been on this series so far?  We’re tied at one, and it seems like this thing could go the distance…

LaPorta: “It’s been exciting.  The Thunder have a great ball team.  You’ve just got to go out there and play hard every day and see what happens at the end of the series.”

Ashmore: With the kind of year that you’ve had, are you just kind of looking forward to getting this series over with and taking some to step back from everything for a little bit? 

LaPorta: “This is my job and this is what it entails.  I’ve got to go out there, we’ve got three more games left and then I can take a break and the season’s over.  But right now, I’ve got thre days left of business.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com


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