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