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Suns run brings title

June 15, 1998|By DAN SPEARS

For effectiveness alone, Matt Weimer would have been given a black belt.

Weimer's admitted "self-defense" stab of a seventh-inning line drive against the Asheville Tourists not only saved his head, but also turned into the knockout punch for the Hagerstown Suns.

Weimer's catch of a Michael Johns bullet and throw to third base completed a double play to end Hagerstown's 10th straight victory - completing the team's brilliant comeback for the South Atlantic League's Northern Division title over Cape Fear.

The Crocs, who headed into the day with a one-game lead over Hagerstown, were swept by cellar-dwelling Charleston (W.Va.), 3-1 and 2-1.

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"They didn't really say anything to me when I went out there," said Weimer, who saved the 8-4 and 5-3 victories by the Suns (44-26) at Municipal Stadium on Sunday afternoon. "I caught it, and knew to look. Third base was just the first place I saw."

That was also the last thing he saw before his teammates mobbed him to celebrate the unlikely title.

"When everything is clickin', every little bounce goes your way," pitching coach Hector Berrios said. "On that play, if Matt doesn't catch it, it's a hit, we're tied and still out there playing."

All the bounces almost didn't go the Suns' way. Tony Peters, who fouled a ball off his ankle in the first that left him with a huge knot on his leg, came up with runners on the corners and two outs in the sixth.

On a 3-1 count, Peters swung for the fences, and barely made the infield grass. But his swinging bunt was enough - despite a slight limp and his "not leadoff speed" - for a base hit to drive in the go-ahead run, and score the winning run on Asheville third baseman Todd Sears' wild throw into right field.

"Right after I hit it, I was like, 'Dangit,'" Peters said. "But I knew he (Sears) was playing back, so I just ran as hard as I could."

The play typified the team's comeback over its 12-game homestand to end the first half. Nothing came easy for the Suns - who played four doubleheaders in the last seven days - but it worked.

"We did as well as we possibly could," Suns manager Marty Pevey said. "But winning four doubleheaders in a row ... that's what amazes me."

But in Pevey's defense, he wasn't the only one.

"To be completely honest, this wasn't in our minds," second baseman Mike Young said. "They (Cape Fear) were playing well, and we knew we could play well, but we didn't expect them to fall down."

But the Crocs fell down, and simply couldn't get back up. And Hagerstown wouldn't let them when they tried.

The Suns were in third place on May 26, 10 1/2 games behind, after losing four of five at Cape Fear. They started crawling back into the race with a four-game home sweep of Hickory, before taking two of three in Charleston (W.Va.) and coming home for a 12-game homestand to end the half.

Hagerstown lost the second game to Savannah, then took off on its 10-game winning streak. As the victories at Municipal Stadium mounted, so did the team's confidence.

"Over the last couple of games, we started saying, 'We've got a chance,'" Young said. "We kept thinking it just had to be an omen."

"We were serious the whole time," Pevey said. "We put some big time pressure on them."

An amazing feat, indeed, considering the Suns put no pressure on the Crocs when the two teams squared off on the field. Hagerstown was only 3-10 against Cape Fear in the first half, but Pevey thinks the team got its most important victory off the field.

A Suns protest of a Crocs victory was upheld by the league office, and the Suns eventually won the replayed game.

"That was the one that did it," Pevey said of the eventual two-game swing the victory gave the Suns. "That was the one that broke their neck."

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