Fast start, strong finish, final day win leads Bowie to playoffs

As they get ready to play for a league championship for the third time in the team’s 28-year history, the Double-A Bowie Baysox can look back on a special regular season where they got off to a sizzling start and produced a strong finish.

The Baysox were 21-5 on June 4 and were about the best team in all of Minor League Baseball to that point. Late in the year, as they pushed for a postseason spot, Bowie won 12 of 14 in the last two series, going 7-0 versus Harrisburg and 5-2 against Akron.

They needed every win, as just two of the league’s 12 teams would make the playoffs in 2021.

In a must-win game Sunday, there were plenty of heroes as Bowie scored three in the last of the eighth to beat Altoona 7-5 and reach the Double-A Northeast Championship Series, which begins tomorrow night as the No. 2 seed Baysox host No. 1 seed Akron in a best-of-five series for a title.

There was Johnny Rizer scoring from second base to tie the game at 5-5 in the eighth on a 5-2 force at home. Zach Watson’s slide into Altoona catcher Arden Pabst jarred the ball loose. Not soon enough to avoid the forceout on the play, but just far enough away for Rizer’s mad dash to tie the game.

There was the bullpen quartet of Logan Gillaspie, Morgan McSweeney, Tim Naughton and Diogenes Almengo. They combined for six scoreless innings on three hits with no walks and 13 strikeouts.

There were Watson, Patrick Dorrian and Andrew Daschbach hitting clutch homers.

There was catcher Cody Roberts batting ninth. In just his 17th Bowie game, he delivered a bases-loaded single to right with two outs in the eighth to break the 5-5 tie. Roberts was drafted in round 11 by the Orioles in 2018 out of the University of North Carolina. He has also played this season for high Single-A Aberdeen and Triple-A Norfolk, and hit .231 for the Baysox. His 12th hit with Bowie may have been the biggest of the year for the Baysox.

Thumbnail image for Buck-Britton-Bowie-Baysox-Helmet-White-Sidebar.jpg“He’s kind of been a guy for the organization that has been everywhere this season and done everything they asked him to do,” Bowie manager Buck Britton told me in a phone interview after Sunday’s win. “He’s been an absolute pro. For him to do this for us, I felt really good for him.”

Britton reflected on the game-winning rally in the eighth.

“It all started with one of the things we take pride in, how often we walk here. It was two walks and a hit by pitch to load the bases there in the eighth, and that got everything rolling,” he noted.

Britton said he takes pride in winning in Bowie, where he played for several seasons and now serves as skipper.

“It’s huge,” he said. “Just the excitement after we won. Phil (Wrye, assistant general manager) got on the mic and encouraged everyone to come out for the games on Tuesday and Wednesday. You could just hear it in his voice. COVID sucked for everybody and the minor leagues took a big hit. For the first season back, for us to make the playoffs and play for a championship is pretty cool.

“And it’s awesome for the players. These guys, they wanted to win. They like being around each other. To see them celebrate with their teammates is pretty special. You may not have a ton of opportunities like this throughout your baseball career, whether it’s 10 years in the big leagues or however many you play in the minor leagues. So to be able to celebrate with your teammates is special.”

Britton said it’s likely that righty Gray Fenter (6-4, 5.47 ERA) will start Game 1 tomorrow with right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (6-1, 2.60 ERA) held back for Game 2 on Wednesday night.

“We have Grayson for maybe the turning point of the series,” he said. “Our thought is, if we win Game 1, we have Grayson ready to possibly go up 2-0 in a five-game series. And if we lose Game 1, before we head out on the road, have Grayson there to hopefully get us a win in our home park and have some momentum going on the road.”

Bowie played Akron twice in the regular season, going 2-4 each time - once home and once on the road.

Gunnar Henderson was 1-for-11 in his first four games with Bowie, but was 2-for-4 with a couple of singles on Sunday.

Jordan Westburg had a big final series, going 11-for-28 (.393) over the last seven games with two doubles, a homer, seven runs and three RBIs.

Bowie played twice in 27 years for the Eastern League championship, winning in five games in 2015 over Reading and losing in four games in 2019 versus Trenton.

Delmarva scores big on final day: The low Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds beat Salem 9-7 on Sunday to finish 68-52 and knock Salem (71-49) out of the playoffs. Billy Cook’s two-run homer in the ninth broke a 7-7 tie as Delmarva rallied from 6-1 behind to win.

Cook’s homer was the 113th hit by Shorebirds batters this year, setting a club record and topping the 112 by the 2016 team, which had 139 games to do that. Delmarva also finished with a club-record 720 runs, topping the 700 by the 2000 team in 136 games.

Delmarva was 20-10 over the last 30 games after the mid-August arrival of a host of 2021 O’s draft picks. The team scored 224 runs (7.5 per game) in those 30 games.

Now, unless playoff-bound, many minor league clubs have completed their seasons. But not in Triple-A. The Norfolk Tides have 10 more games remaining through Oct. 3.

The Baysox are hoping Birdland shows up big the next two nights to pack their ballpark and support their players pursuit of a championship. For tickets, go to Baysox.com.

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