By MIKE ASHMORE
Special to LIDucks.com
Yes, the Long Island Ducks have been in this exact position before.
But before they can think about a second consecutive playoff series in which they’d have to win all three games at home to come all the way back, they first need to focus simply winning Game Three.
“Right now, it’s just taking it one game at a time,” said manager Kevin Baez. “(Nick) Struck takes the ball tomorrow, and we expect a good outing and to get a ‘W.’”
When the first pitch is thrown at Bethpage Ballpark at about 6:35 p.m., it will be Struck facing the Sugar Land Skeeters; the 26-year-old right-hander will be just six days removed from a pivotal gem against Somerset in which he allowed just one run on two walks and four hits over seven stellar frames to extend a series that Long Island ultimately won.
In the clubhouse after that Game Three performance in the Liberty Division Championship Series, Struck seemed unaffected by the moment, and surely the Ducks are hopeful he can carry that attitude into Friday night, despite stakes that are now as high as they get in the Atlantic League.
“(There was) no pressure, I’ve got 24 guys behind me,” the fast-working Struck said at the time. “I just wanted to set the tone early, make good pitches and give our offense a chance to win.”
Added Baez: “He goes out there and he’s just a great competitor and really wants the ball. He understands that he’s just got to simplify his game; pitch your game, don’t try to do anything out of the ordinary. It’s the old clichés, one pitch at a time and one inning at a time. If he keeps pitching like he’s been pitching, we should be OK.”
More than OK, really.
With a Game Three win, Baez would then have the option of going to ace John Brownell on full rest after a heroic Game Five effort in which he and Patriots southpaw Will Oliver both dueled on three days rest, or turn to Jarret Leverett, who actually one-upped Struck with seven innings of shutout ball in Game Four.
“We’re hoping Struck can give us the outing he gave us last time, and then it gets to Game Four and we move on from there,” Baez said. “We’ve got Struck, Brownie and Leverett in waiting, so we feel good about having them on the back end. But we’ve got to take care of business (Friday).”
With his pitching rotation lined up seemingly perfectly for another chance of achieving the improbable – A completed comeback would win bring Atlantic League Championship trophy back to Central Islip for the third time in five seasons -- Baez was asked if he could use last week’s incredible comeback as a rallying point for his players before Game Three gets underway.
“I don’t really have to remind them, but I’m sure I’ll say something when we stretch on Friday,” he said.
“The guys know we’ve got to win or we go home, but we’re going back (to Bethpage Ballpark) where we like to play, and we play well. We hope we get the same results. We have to. We lost two on the road, but in the last series, we did the same and won three. But, it’s a new series and a new team. Hopefully, we can do it again.”