ALLENTOWN - The Lehigh Valley IronPigs fourth season ended on a sour note Friday night when the Columbus Clippers came back from a one-game deficit to win three straight and capture their second International League Championship in a row. The IronPigs were held to just four hits, while Columbus took advantage of a key error and grabbed a 4-1 win to win the series.
Throughout the series, the IronPigs offense sputtered as they collectively hit .177 (16-for-90) in the series and were just 2-for-23 (.087) with runners in scoring position, including going 0-for-their last 20. Their last hit with a runner in scoring position came in the second inning of the first game of the series, which Lehigh Valley captured 5-2.
"We were shut down three games in a row with quality arms and quality pitching," explained manager Ryne Sandberg. "We just couldn't get anything going, which was pretty much the story for the three losses, but the guys battled to the very end."
A crowd of 9,354 were on their feet almost from the time the lineups were introduced, but the Clippers put them back in their seats with two runs in the top of the second off starter Ryan Edell. With a runner on first and two outs, Juan Diaz singled to right and Brandon Moss misplayed the ball, resulting in a two-base error that allowed Chad Huffman to score from first and put Columbus up 2-0.
In the third, Jared Goedert planted an Edell pitch into the bullpen and suddenly, Lehigh Valley was down by three runs.
Columbus starter Paolo Espino held Lehigh Valley to three hits through six innings and didn't run into any serious trouble until the seventh when Moss led off the inning with his fourth home run of the post-season taking an Espino fastball out of Coca-Cola Park over the billboards in right field. Two of Moss' home runs in the post-season were among the longest ever hit at Coca-Cola Park.
"Good pitching can stop an offense," said Sandberg. "We're a team that scores runs by doing little things like stealing bases and hustle came into play, but we were shut down for three games."
For the second night in a row, Columbus seemingly put the game away in the top of the ninth by adding some insurance to their run total. Justin De Fratus came on in relief and after getting the first out of the inning, gave up two singles, hit a batter and bounced a wild pitch to give the Clippers a 4-1 lead.
Chen-Chang Lee set down Lehigh Valley in order in the bottom of the ninth to record the save and start Columbus' celebration.
While he was disappointed by the loss, Sandberg found some true positives to the season. "I saw a lot of positives on the development side. Just an incredible summer for seeing the development of some of these young guys."
After the game, the night got even worse for a couple of IronPigs when pitchers Juan Perez and Mike Zagurski were designated for assignment to open spots on the 40-man roster. Likewise, the night got a little better for a few players who were told their next stop was Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The Phillies recalled De Fratus and outfielder Domonic Brown and purchased the contracts of pitcher Joe Savery, outfielder Brandon Moss and catcher Erik Kratz. For De Fratus and Savery, the trip to Philadelphia will be their first opportunity to play in the majors. Sandberg will also be joining the Phillies as an extra coach, which will be his first major league stint as a non-player.
For Kratz, this will be his second trip to the majors and both times, he was at Coca-Cola Park both times when he found out he was heading up. "It's a rush of excitement," said Kratz. "It's weird, because we just lost a big game, but yet you find out you're going up and there's just so much going through your mind."
Sandberg remarked that when he told Savery he was going to Philadelphia, the 25 year-old former draft pick got tears in his eyes. For his part, Savery admitted the emotion of the moment and reflected on the fact that not too long ago, he was thinking about life after baseball, because he knew he wasn't producing enough to figure on a major league career. Now, that's all changed. "I made plans to be back in school this fall and really started to think about what life was going to be like after baseball," said Savery.
Savery and De Fratus could be getting early auditions for a shot at making the Phillies bullpen in 2012.
Domonic Brown suffered through a 1-for-18 (.056) slump in the playoffs and was out of the lineup for game four. There was some doubt whether he would rejoin the Phils based on his late-season performance, but ultimately, they decided they wanted Brown to finish the season with the big league club.
"Like I told them [the players], this was one of the best summers that I've ever had. I got to come to the ballpark everyday with a bunch of guys who came to the park and played hard every day," said Sandberg in summarizing the season.
Sandberg was non-committal on what he thought his future might hold. He's made no secret of the fact that he wants to manage at the major league level, but if the right situation doesn't come along, he sounds open to returning to Lehigh Valley next season.