Winners have more fun. Brett Marshall can attest to that.
In late August, Marshall was playing out the string of another lost season for Southern Maryland. Every fifth day, he would take the mound for the Blue Crabs, the second-worst team in the Atlantic League.
It’s a slog that most professional players have known at least once — playoffs miles away and the calendar moving at a snail’s pace toward the merciful end of the season.
But Marshall was granted new life. Acquired by the Ducks on Aug. 31 as the player to be named in an earlier deal, the righthander was catapulted from baseball Siberia into the middle of a pennant race.
The Ducks, who have made two consecutive trips to the Atlantic League Championship Series, needed one win in their final two games this weekend to guarantee themselves a spot in this year’s playoffs.
They got that win Saturday night, earning a 5-3, 11-inning victory over the host Sugar Land Skeeters in conjunction with the Somerset Patriots’ loss to the York Revolution. That clinched the Liberty Division second-half title for the Ducks.
The Ducks will face Liberty Division first-half champion Somerset in the best-of-five Liberty Division Championship Series beginning Tuesday at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.
The Ducks chose Marshall to help bolster a starting staff that lost their ace, Bennett Parry, to the Chinese Professional Baseball League on Aug. 2.
“By trading for me because they needed help, it shows how much confidence they had in me,” said Marshall, 28. “I’m excited. It’s always fun to come and win a championship somewhere. That’s why we’re here — to win, hopefully get back to affiliated ball and just have fun.”
Marshall yo-yo’ed through the Atlantic League this season. He went from first to worst and back to what he hopes will be first again. He started the year with Sugar Land, the best team in the Atlantic League. He made nine starts, had a 5.19 ERA and was released June 14. He signed with the Blue Crabs on June 20 and had a 4.24 ERA in 13 starts.
Overall, Marshall entered Saturday night’s third start with the Ducks at 6-9 with a 4.68 ERA.
“It was up and down for me this year,” he said. “Walks have been my issue. Over the past month or so, I’ve been able to take those down and figure out a few mechanical things and mindset things. I’ve had better seasons, but I’m just glad that I’m able to hopefully end this year on a good note and hopefully help win a championship.”
Toward the end of his time with Southern Maryland, Marshall started pitching from the center of the rubber, as opposed to his previously preferred set-up on the third-base side. He hopes this will cut down on his walks, which were at 75 in 127 innings entering Saturday, a rate of 5.3 per nine innings.
“It creates more movement over the middle of the plate, instead of it coming out of my hand with it being a ball,” Marshall said of the advantages to his centering stance. “Some hitters were laying off more pitches. Now I’m getting more swings and more contact because they’re seeing the ball as a strike out of my hand.”
Marshall’s first two starts with the Ducks could not have been more opposite. He allowed one run and four hits in six innings, struck out seven and walked three in his debut against the New Britain Bees on Sept. 4. In his next start, he couldn’t get out of the second inning against the Road Warriors.
Marshall began his career with the ultimate winners — the Yankees, who picked him in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. He pitched three games for them in 2013 and allowed six runs in 12 innings. It wasn’t the most successful cup of coffee of all time, but it’s something he won’t forget.
“Getting to play with guys like [Derek] Jeter, Mariano [Rivera] and [Andy] Pettitte, those things I won’t ever be able to forget,” Marshall said. “For me, it was a dream of mine. I grew up a Yankees fan from Houston. I always said I wanted to play for the Yankees. Getting to debut with them and come up with them was just icing on the cake.”
The Yankees waived Marshall after the 2013 season and, aside from short stays in the minor-league systems of the Reds, Rockies and Rays, he’s spent the last five years in independent ball.
“I loved my time with [the Yankees],” he said. “Hopefully down the road, I can get back with them somehow. You never know where baseball is going to take you.”
He should know.
The Ducks will make their fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs after winning their second straight Liberty Division second-half title. They lost in the Atlantic League Championship Series in each of the previous two seasons and have not won an Atlantic League championship since 2013.
In the best-of-five Liberty Division Championship Series, the Ducks will host Somerset in Game 1 on Tuesday and Game 2 on Wednesday before the series shifts to Bridgewater, New Jersey, for Game 3 on Friday and, if necessary, Game 4 on Saturday and Game 5 next Sunday.
A series victory over the Patriots would earn the Ducks a third straight berth in the Atlantic League Championship Series, where they would face the Freedom Division Championship Series winner — either Sugar Land or the Lancaster Barnstormers.