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A tale of two half champs

Suns, Shorebirds took similar, yet different, paths to SAL playoffs

Suns, Shorebirds took similar, yet different, paths to SAL playoffs

September 07, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

The road to get to the South Atlantic League playoffs was far more exciting for the Hagerstown Suns than the one they used to arrive to the postseason.

Life was one big highway joyride for the Suns when they established an early lead before winning the North Division's first-half title in a playoff.

The second-half trip has had more bumps than cobblestone as Hagerstown prepares to enter the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

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But the Suns are here. And if Hagerstown shares anything with Delmarva as they begin the divisional best-of-3 playoff series tonight in Salisbury, Md., it's that both teams have experienced life on both sides of the street to get this far.

Consider: Hagerstown has a season record of 71-66, including a 42-28 mark while winning the first-half title. Delmarva? The Shorebirds are 72-67 overall, including 42-27 in the second half.

And the one common thread? The Suns had home run hitters in the first half. Delmarva got their wall-bangers in the second half.

Since the first-half title, Hagerstown has watched the majority of its talent slide by the wayside, be it by promotion or injury. It forced the Suns to struggle with a new cast of characters and an slightly altered playing philosophy to get ready for the chance to win the SAL crown and Hagerstown's first baseball championship since 1981.

"They hit home runs and we have to do things right to score ours," Suns manager Gene Richards said in a televised interview Monday.

Since winning the first half, two things have been true about the Suns.

1. Change is constant.

2. Even in change, you must count on your constants.

The New York Mets rewarded their players - and hampered Hagerstown in the process - by promoting them after winning the first-half title in a playoff over Lexington. While it's the main function of minor league baseball, it's painful for the fans to watch.

Mainstays - and top power threats - Dante Brinkley, Wilson Batista, Gabriel Hernandez, Grant Psomas and Aaron Hathaway were promoted to St. Lucie and took 60 percent of Hagertown's firepower with them. They lost even more when Mike Carp was shelved with a hand injury.

The Suns have been using the Richards method of scoring runs - aggressive play, stealing bases and bunts, better known as small ball.

When Hagerstown enters the playoffs though, it will be the veterans who have spent the entire season playing in the SAL who will the ones to be called on to get the Suns into the championship round.

Outfielders Ambiorix Concepcion (130 games) and Carlos Gomez (120) are two of the three players with more than a half-season experience with Hagerstown. Concepcion (.251) and Gomez (.274) are major cogs in the Suns' running game, combining for 99 steals in 138 attempts.

Psomas is the other most experienced player with 99 games, 11 since returning here late last month.

Meanwhile, the Suns will be looking at their two most experienced pitchers to carry them through in the first two games of the series. All-Star Jose Sanchez will start tonight with his 11-5 record, which included a 9-0 start.

He will be followed by Michael Devaney, who may have been the glue of the staff. Devaney is 10-4 with a 3.88 ERA in 32 appearances - 15 starts and 17 relief stints.

After floundering for most of the second half, the Suns closed with a flurry winning seven of their last 10 games while Delmarva was going 4-6.

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