ABERDEEN, Md. – Seeking their first-ever league championship and the first by an O’s farm team in seven years, the high Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds came up short tonight at Ripken Stadium.
Bowling Green, a Tampa Bay affiliate, got the lead on a bases-loaded balk call and later added three more runs as they beat Aberdeen 4-0 to win the South Atlantic League championship series, two wins to one.
The IronBirds had a strong regular season, going 78-54 and then beat Brooklyn in three games in a semifinal playoff series. But they lost tonight’s third and deciding game to the Hot Rods for the SAL championship.
Aberdeen was searching for its first title since becoming an O’s farm club in 2002 and first by a Baltimore affiliate since Double-A Bowie won the Eastern League in 2015.
The balk call came in the top of the fifth with two outs and the bases loaded. Right-hander Connor Gillispie started the inning for Aberdeen and Logan Driscoll drilled a leadoff double. After a pop out, Bowling Green loaded the bases with a single and walk. Then Aberdeen manager Roberto Mercado called for righty Kade Strowd to try and pitch out of the jam. He just about did.
Strowd fanned leadoff hitter Mason Auer and then first baseman Alexander Ovalles came to bat. During that at-bat, Strowd was called for a balk by the home plate umpire and a run scored for the 1-0 lead. He would go on to strikeout Ovalles but a run had scored for Bowling Green to snap the 0-0 tie.
Earlier right-hander Peter Van Loon got the start for Aberdeen and pitched very well. He threw four scoreless on one hit, a single. He walked one and fanned four on 45 pitches. He was rolling, but Gillispie entered to pitch the fifth.
The Hot Rods added to their lead with three in the seventh. Auer’s two-run double made it 3-0 and he scored on a two-out single by Tanner Murray and it was 4-0.
A night after producing 13 runs and 13 hits and going 7-for-11 with runners in scoring position, the IronBirds were blanked in the season’s final game. They were held to just four hits – singles by Dylan Beavers, Heston Kjerstad and Frederick Bencosme and Max Wagner’s triple to center in the sixth.