By: Mike Ashmore
(Central Islip, N.Y., Sept. 27, 2017) – It’s a rematch that’s been six years in the making.
For the second time in franchise history, the Long Island Ducks will face the York Revolution in the Atlantic League Championship Series. And for those in the home clubhouse at Bethpage Ballpark who were in uniform back then, while there certainly isn’t much of a direct correlation between that series and this one, they’re hopeful for a different result than the four-game defeat they suffered.
“What I do remember about that season is us winning the first half, winning the second half and going into it with a very good team, but we didn’t get the results we wanted,” said Ducks manager Kevin Baez, who was in first year as the team’s skipper in 2011.
“That’s about it. I try not to dwell too much on the past, but you remember some things. There’s still a few guys (here), but we didn’t really discuss it in that way. We just look at it as it’s 2017, and we’re facing York in the Finals.”
The Ducks captured both half titles in 2011, and their 78-47 overall record that year is the second best of the Baez era. However, after getting past the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the first round of the postseason, the Revolution handed them an early exit in the Championship Series.
“I remember that season, we were able to put a lot of runs up on the board, but during that series, we just couldn’t,” said shortstop Dan Lyons, who was in his first year with the club at the time.
“We saw a few pitchers that we hadn’t seen at all in that series, and that might have messed us up a little bit. But in that series, the offense just wasn’t there, and that what was kind of our identity that year, that we’d been able to put up 8-9 runs a game. They shut us down, and that was pretty much the story of the series.”
However, comparisons between that series and this upcoming series, set to get underway in Central Islip at 6:35 PM on Wednesday night, are few and far between. If anything, returning players have last year’s Championship Series sweep at the hands of the Sugar Land Skeeters far more in the forefront of their minds.
“A lot of the guys who did come back, we remember the sour taste in our mouths, and we’re obviously pushing towards a better finish,” Lyons said.
“I think that does motivate some of the guys, but for the new guys coming in this year, they know what happened last year and I think everyone’s in line right now fighting for a better result. Looking back at 2011, I honestly don’t really remember too much about that or really think about that we’re playing York. It’s a completely different team that they’ve got over there, and likewise with us. I think last year’s series is still fresh in our minds, and we’re going to look to improve on that by seeing what mistakes we made and hopefully fixing those so we can turn it around this year.”
In part, a less challenging opening round to this year’s postseason may have put the Ducks in a better position to once again bring the trophy home to Long Island. The 2017 Division Series win over the Somerset Patriots was in stark contrast to the 2016 Liberty Division Series, where the Ducks had to overcome an early 2-0 deficit to complete the comeback and advance to the finals.
“A lot of the guys, I don’t know if we had winning the whole thing on our minds (in 2016),” said eighth-year Ducks outfielder Lew Ford, who also serves as the team’s bench coach.
“There was a big series right before the Championship Series, and I think it took a lot out of guys. The Championship Series was over before we knew it. They beat us pretty quick, and you’re kind of just left wondering what happened…so, it was better than last year, with losing the first two and then having to battle back with the three games in a row. There was a lot of emotion at the end of that, and it was a big relief. It was a lot of good emotion, but we spent a lot of energy last year mentally, and we just weren’t in it the first couple games…this year, I think this is the series that everyone’s focused on winning, and I think we’ll be ready this year.”
This year, clearly, is different. Only Mark Mason and Enohel Polanco were on the York Revolution during their first Championship Series matchup, while Baez, Ford, Lyons and of course, Bud Harrelson, are the only Ducks holdovers.
“I think we match up well,” Baez said. “I think their lineup is very good, and they have a lot of speed. They’re more aggressive than Somerset. I think their pitching is good, but I think their relievers are very good. Their starting pitching is just as good. It’s two very good teams going against each other. I know we just faced Somerset, who I thought was very, very good and obviously they had a stacked lineup and their pitching was very, very good. For us to win that series, it was huge because they were a very good team.”
Long Island held a slim 11-9 advantage in this year’s regular season series, and expectations are that this upcoming Championship Series will be just as competitive.
“I feel like they have overall more power and maybe a couple better hitters than we did, but I feel like our pitching and our defense is probably a little better than theirs,” Ford said. “It’s going to come down to which team pitches better, pretty much. I think both teams hit OK, but they might have a slight advantage hitting-wise. Good pitching can neutralize that, so hopefully if we pitch better and play better defense, we’re going to win.”
It would be a win six years overdue.
“We have a completely different team, and so do they,” Ford said. “I think this series is going to play out a little different, but we’ll see what happens.”