When it mattered most, Suns got it done

June 27, 2005|by TIM KOELBLE

"We get a chance to play for the ring."

That's what many of the current Hagerstown Suns will have an opportunity to play for as the second half of the South Atlantic League season runs its course before the postseason begins in September.

Mike Carp, the youngest of the Suns - he will turn 19 on Thursday - echoed that thought prior to Sunday's game against Lexington, coming on the heels of Saturday's first-half, title-clinching 9-4 win over the Legends.

Carp leads the Suns in home runs (16) and RBI (48), but the left-hander was not in the lineup Saturday as manager Gene Richards went with an all-righty lineup against Lexington southpaw Troy Patton.


"It would have been nice to be in there, but (Gene) put the best lineup out on the field to win that game against them that night," Carp said.

The Suns fought with Lexington and Lake County tooth and nail down to the wire as the first half concluded, and caught Lexington on the final day behind Gabriel Hernandez's no-hitter to force the championship game.

Carp said the Suns, who were in must-win situations against West Virginia to end the first half, said the "team atmosphere was always positive down the stretch ... (Dante) Brinkley and (Derran) Watts keep it that way."

Brinkley said the first-half title was "like a ton of bricks off of us. We can play more relaxed now and then go after our next goal - winning the championship."

Heading into the All-Star break, Brinkley was hitting .364 with 17 doubles, 10 home runs and 41 RBI.

"We had our ups early in the season, kind of even keel in the middle and having to keep our heads up at the end," Brinkley said. "We didn't panic down the stretch."

Richards said the Suns felt good about facing Patton, considered to be one of the top three pitchers in the South Atlantic League.

"We had batters that were patient against him and we got him rattled," Richards said. "I felt good with the two runs in the first inning (a two-run homer by Grant Psomas) and the key was getting runners on base."

n Not forgotten in Saturday's performance was the bullpen work of Mike Devaney, who followed up on Hernandez's five-inning outing with three innings of solid work.

"There's no question we've had some bullpen struggles, but with the lead, (Devaney) got some strikeouts and shut them down," Richards said.

n Richards, who will head to Augusta, Ga., as manager of the North All-Stars on Tuesday along with players Grant Psomas, Carp, Brinkley and Hernandez, said the break comes at a good time.

"These kids are young and many of them don't know all of the inner workings of the game yet," Richards said. "We'll be working on that. But we have to be repetitive in what we do in the second half."

-- After the game, Richards said the Suns, and the fans that have grown to follow some of their stars in the New York Mets' system, would be losing three key players to promotion.

Infielder Wilson Batista, catcher Aaron Hathaway (who has played at other infield positions and as a DH) and Brinkley were all promoted to Port St. Lucie of the Florida State League. Richards did not know who the new players joining the Suns would be.

"I hope none of them have to come back here," Richards said. "Whatever we get and we have, we'll do with it."

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