Bud Harrelson, the venerable Ducks’ co-owner/first-base coach, pointed at the photo on the wall, and with a knowing nod, said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. I think that guy said it.”
The photo, of course, was of Yogi Berra, taken when the Hall of Fame Yankees catcher was managing Harrelson and the Mets. The wisdom of Berra’s words, uttered lo those many years ago, continues to ring true, and it applied to the 2016 Ducks.
They completed their comeback from an 0-2 deficit in the Liberty Division Championship Series by defeating the Somerset Patriots, 5-1, Sunday night at Bethpage Ballpark. They won the fifth and deciding game behind the pitching of starter John Brownell and a shutdown quartet of relievers.
“Wooooo!” bellowed manager Kevin Baez just before his champagne dousing, “and you can quote me.”
The excitement will continue for the Ducks, who advance to the best-of-five Atlantic League Championship Series against the Sugar Land Skeeters beginning Tuesday night at 8:05 p.m. in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land. Game 2 is Wednesday night at Sugar Land before the series resumes at Bethpage Ballpark for Game 3 on Friday night and Games 4 and 5 if necessary on Saturday and Sunday.
The Ducks gave Brownell, the franchise leader in victories, strikeouts and innings, a 4-0 cushion in the first inning, scoring one run on a wild pitch, two on a pair of RBI doubles from Lew Ford and Ruben Gotay, and on a run-scoring single by Tyler Colvin.
“Absolutely that helped a lot,” said Brownell, who allowed one run on three hits in 5 2⁄3 innings. “After that inning, I knew they needed baserunners to get back in it and I just attacked the strike zone with confidence.”
Brownell had to survive one major crisis when the Patriots, the only other team in league history to win a series after dropping the first two games when they did it to win the 2001 championship, loaded the bases with nobody out in the fifth.
But after a sacrifice fly by Eric Farris, Brown induced a groundout from Rob Kral and got the dangerous Scott Kelly to fly to rightfield. “I knew that was their big opportunity, at least against me,” Brownell said. “I’m happy I was able to limit the damage.”
The Ducks bullpen then turned out the lights. Patrick Crider, Zac Treece, Amalio Diaz and Todd Coffey combined to pitch 3 1⁄3 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits with six strikeouts.
“Browny was great and the bullpen? What can I say,” Baez said. That said it all.