— The Trenton Thunder have defeated the Reading Phillies, 5-4, and advanced to the Eastern League Championship Series for the fourth time in franchise history. Their opponent will be the winner of Game 5 between the Bowie Baysox and Akron Aeros, which was scheduled for first pitch at 7:05 PM tonight.
Here’s how it all ended, with two runners on, one out and Darin Ruf at the plate with the Phillies down a run. Seems like a dream scenario for the Phillies right? Well…
It wasn’t. But let’s back up a bit and start with some other key moments in this one, then get to the quotes from the people involved.
Nik Turley started for the Thunder. That name may not be familar to you if you’ve been watching Trenton all season…most likely because he hadn’t pitched at Waterfront Park all year and had made just one Double-A start all year. Early on, it looked like the nerves might have got to him. Although he made a nice pitch to strike out Darin Ruf, he walked two and gave up a run-scoring single that put his team in a quick 1-0 hole. But Tyler Austin’s RBI double one frame later tied things right back up at one run a piece.
Addison Maruszak’s RBI single to short right field in the fourth put the Thunder up, 2-1…and then J.R. Murphy hit a ball that just kept carrying to left field, good for a two-run home run and 4-1 lead. But Turley started to falter in the sixth, failing to retire either of the two batters he faced…that included an absolute missile off the bat of Ruf. Graham Stoneburner came in and allowed two hits that scored two runs (both charged to Turley), but Branden Pinder came in and shut the door to keep it a 4-3 game.
Maruszak homered in the Thunder half of the sixth for a huge insurance run, which was ultimately the game-winning one. David Aardsma came in for the seventh and allowed a run, which again made it a one run game, but Mark Montgomery showcased his filthy stuff in the eighth, striking out two of the four batters he faced. Ryan Pope came in and things got interesting…Pope allowed two singles, which put two men on for Ruf. But after Ruf took a slider that arguably could have been called a strike — the zone was tight all night — Pope got Ruf to roll over a fastball and send the Thunder to the next round with a double play groundout.
Now, some quotes…
“That’s the joy of being older, you’ve been through every situation possible. Our team played great, and played great defense. We’ve got a veteran group here that knows how to win, so that definitely helps.”
“(Plan for Ruf) Just don’t let him beat us. Anybody else can beat us but him. He’s a great player, and I think that’s what anybody would do. Just make your pitches. Don’t pitch around him, but make quality pitches against a quality hitter.”
“You’ve just got to lock it in (against Ruf). Anything is possible in the playoffs. We had great pitching. They’re a great hitting team, but sometimes people just have better days than others and we were on the other side of that tonight.”
“I’m just going to do what I keep doing, and that’s throwing strikes. For him, as long as I locate my pitches, hitters are going to get themselves out seven out of ten times. He’s a great hitter, but if I can execute my pitches, I give myself a great chance to get him out and that’s what I tried to do.”
“Every player wants to be in that position, but when you don’t get it done, it feels awful. It’s tough, because you battle all year for your teammates, and it comes down to that one last at-bat after 500 all year, and you need to come through there. It’s baseball, I guess. But I just feel awful for the rest of the guys, for all of us, that we have to go home now.”
“It was just a fastball away, and I don’t know if I was too anxious or what, but I rolled over it a little bit. He made a good pitch on the slider the pitch before that, and I took it well. But I’ve got to stay on that ball a little more than I did.”
“I don’t know if there was a pattern (to how they pitched me), they mixed it up often. I assume J.R. calls pitches, and he’s a good catcher. He knows what to do. Their pitchers executed well for the most part. It’s just baseball. Sometimes they miss pitches and as hitters you’ve got to take advantage of that. They did a good job, they deserve it.”
“Sometimes you get hot as pitchers, and when you bear down a little bit more in the playoffs, maybe scouting reports get a little bit more in-depth or their focus becomes a little bit better and just execution in general. Sometimes that happens when you execute a little bit better.”
“(On appreciating his season) Not right now, maybe in a couple days I can reflect a little bit better and be proud of what we accomplished. But not really in the moment, no.”
“The guys did a great job all year long, and I couldn’t be more proud of those guys. We grinded it out all year long, and I think that’s the mark of this team.”
“It was going to be a tough series, I knew that. They have a great team. They lost some key guys, we lost some key guys. But nevertheless, they had good pitching and good hitters. We pitched well. Our bullpen did a great job, and we got a great effort from Turley today. It was a good series, this is the way it supposed to be. This is what you’re going to face when you get to the major leagues and this is where they’re supposed to start learning how to deal with situations like this, because it’s pretty nervewracking. No matter how long you’ve played, you get a little nervous and you get excited and your adrenalin starts to pump and pump, and you’ve got to learn how to handle it. Even me, as long as I’ve been doing this, I’ve got to kind of focus on what I’m doing too. It’s not as easy as it appears.”
“(Neutralizing Ruf) was huge. There’s no question about it, the guy can put three runs on the board with one swing. But not only Ruf, they lost Fox, who was another guy who could do it. That hurt them a little bit. But yeah, Ruf had one heck of a year and he’s a dangerous guy up there with the bat. We did a good job with him and pitched him well and we were able to contain him a little bit.”
“This is the moment; can you put it together and play, can you think with clarity in the moment, can you execute? And Popey did. That was as big of an out as we’ve gotten all year. Two plays I can look are the pickoff by Hyde of Ruf the other day, and this out with Ruf at home plate. Those are two huge outs for us. The guys did a great job, and this is what it’s all about. Hopefully this helps them in the next series and helps them throughout their career.”
“Shoot, I’d (give myself) a B since I got the win. I started struggling a little bit, I was starting guys out with one ball, two balls. I started trying to get a little too cute and thought I was getting a little squeezed there. I felt like I came back after the first inning with the two walks, and I felt good until the sixth.”
“I had some nerves going. That was my first playoff game ever, maybe a couple high school games, but that’s it.”
“It’s awesome, I was so pumped out there when we got that double play. It’s just a really good feeling, we’ve got a really good group of guys here and we all want to win. I’m just happy to be up here.”
“(The strike zone) got to me a little bit. I was getting a little frustrated, but overall I’ve been squeezed before, so I was able to pitch through it.”
“That’s not a big hit until it’s like the ninth inning, right? That wasn’t a big hit. I don’t know what to say, he left a pitch right there and I hit it well. Fastball.”
“(Ruf) is obviously their best hitter. We had our plan. We were going to pick our times when we should even give him something close to hit, and our whole pitching staff did a really good job. We were going to stay away, away, away and pick our times to pitch to him. Obviously, we had to pitch to him there in the ninth, and Popey made a good pitch.”
“Obviously, there’s two guys on base and he can drive a ball in the gap or over the fence pretty easily. That’s a tight situation, but you don’t really want to pitch around him to load the bases too because then anything could happen. It was a fastball away. We went slider first pitch, and he took it. Then we went fastball away, and he rolled over it.”
“They came out aggressive in the ninth. I can’t say I wasn’t expecting it. Once D’Arby got on, he’s a really tough out, especially once he gets on the bases. So we should have tried to avoid that. But they came out really aggressive. Fortunately, it went our way.”
“I thought (the umpire) did a good job, and I thought he squeezed us on a few pitches. But all in all, he did a good job back there and overall our pitchers did their job.”
“I know we got (Asche) out with the split. I was happy this outing, the ball was going where I wanted it to. I got a little behind Gillies, but made him swing the bat and he chopped it on the ground, but it just happened to be through the hole. I definitely was a lot happier with the outing as a whole.”
“This is great, it gets me into the game and it gets me into that mentality where I have to pitch and pitch in situations where the game matters. Today was the first time where I was able to come in and allow that to sink it. It makes you feel good, it makes you feel comfortable. You only feel it before you’re actually pitching. When you’re making your pitches, you don’t even know the situation.”
“Some of these guys, I’ll just talk to the guys (for tips on how to approach them). I know Tyson Gillies from Seattle, Ruf obviously is a guy you notice and you talk about. I knew Fox, I played with Fox. These guys, you just know about. But really, I’m trying to make my own game plan and attack guys, just throw strikes. Each outing, it’s gotten a little better attacking the zone and making them swing at my pitches.”
“I’m going throw with them back-to-back as far as I know, so I’ll be sticking with them. I’ll probably get two days off.”
“They’re a tough team, but I thought before the series it wasn’t going to be hitting that was going to get us through this, even though we did get some hits today, it was pitching and defense. Today was just pitching and defense, there’s not much more you can say about it. They gave up a lot of hits, but they got outs when they needed to and that’s the key to this game.”
“I wasn’t thinking home run (in the seventh). Before this day started and before the series started, especially when lefthanders come in for them…I’m a very cerebral kind of player, they wore me out inside, especially this guy did. I was sitting inside the whole day, and he left one a little bit up and over the inner half of the plate instead of inner corner, and I just put my barrel to it and got it. It was a good approach, lucky swing I guess you could say. When I hit it, I hit it pretty pure. It was kind of hooking a little bit, and then I realized I should probably be running right now. I put my head down and ran and by the time I looked up, I saw the other umpire waving home run, so I just took it nice and easy.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com