Matt Larkins was back to his old self, and just in time, too. The Ducks righthander was well-rested and ready to wash away a so-so regular season as the Liberty Division portion of the Atlantic League playoffs took flight Wednesday night. He did just that — pitching six effective innings in the Ducks' 9-2 victory over the Somerset Patriots in Game 1 of the Liberty Division Championship Series in front of 2,680 fans at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip. The Ducks lead the best-of-5 series, 1-0.
Thanks to some rain-shortened starts, Larkins pitched only 3 2/3 innings in September. The rest, while surely frustrating at the time, worked out perfectly. Larkins allowed two runs and eight hits Wednesday night. He struck out four and walked one.
"There’s no doubt he was rested but, despite that, he’s just that type of guy," Ducks manager Kevin Baez said. "He’s a guy that the moment is not too big. He’s going to be ready and he’s going to keep you in the game and that’s exactly what he did.”
It was Larkins’ best start since Aug. 25 when he allowed two runs in seven innings against woeful Road Warriors and only the third time since the beginning of the second half that he pitched more than three innings and allowed two runs or less.
“Once I was able to settle in and start getting the ball down a little more, I felt like I could attack the zone with my fastball and get quick outs," Larkins said.
The Ducks had 11 hits and the Patriots made three errors — usually a winning combination. Jordany Valdespin went 3-for-4 with three runs and two RBIs. Lew Ford went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and Daniel Fields had three RBIs.
“We had a good approach and got good contact," Valdespin said. "Everyone put the little things together and kept going forward.”
Larkins ran into a bit of trouble early. He allowed two straight one-out singles in the top of the first inning, but then induced a double play from Jayce Boyd to end the inning.
The Ducks broke through with three runs in the bottom of the third inning. Fields’ no-out triple down the rightfield line drove in Dan Lyons and Valdespin. One batter later, Ford’s single to centerfield drove in Fields and gave the Ducks a 3-0 lead.
The Ducks scored two more runs in the fourth after Valdespin tripled home Rubi Silva and then scored after second baseman Craig Massey overthrew third base, airmailing the ball into the stands.
It was generally smooth sailing for Larkins until the fifth when he allowed a run on Massey’s one-out RBI single. He escaped more trouble when Ducks first baseman David Washington picked a low Lyons throw out of the dirt to end the inning with a runner on third.
Patriots leftfielder Ramon Flores smacked a one-out solo home run in the top of the sixth inning to cut the Ducks lead to 5-2.
But the Ducks answered with two runs in the bottom of the sixth. Fields’ sac fly to centerfield drove in Lyons and Ford’s single drove in Valdespin.
Thanks to Larkins, the Ducks have a mighty one-two punch for Game 2 Thursday night. Not only do the Ducks have their ace Jake Fisher on the mound, but they have rested options in the bullpen. Neither closer Francisco Rodriguez or solid set-up man Logan Ondrusek pitched.