BRIDGEWATER, N.J — Different year, same result. The Ducks dispatched the Somerset Patriots of the Liberty Division Championship Series yet again, 4-3, in Game 4 at T.D Bank Ballpark Saturday night to win the best-of-five series 3-1 and advance to the Atlantic League Championship Series for the second consecutive season.
The Atlantic League Championship Series is scheduled to begin Wednesday at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip. It’s thie sixth trip to the ALCS in franchise history.
The Ducks’ bullpen blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the eighth but, after Giovanny Alfonzo hit a slow roller down the third-base line, Anthony Vega scored on a play at the plate that broke a tie at 3 in the top of the ninth.
“The ball hit me in the top left shoulder,” Vega said. “It’s probably a good thing it did because, judging by where the catcher was, it was going to be a close play.”
In the eighth that Somerset catcher, Yovan Gonzalez, facing Ducks closer Amalio Diaz with two outs, fought back from an 0-and-2 count to single and drive in D’Vontrey Richardson to tie the score at 3. Diaz struck out the next batter, Justin Trapp, to end the inning.
“The umpires were [calling] it close,” said Diaz of getting Trapp, “so I tried to keep the ball down and that’s what I did.”
Earlier in the frame, Carlos Guzman’s single off James Jones drove in David Vidal and cut the Ducks’ lead to 3-2.
“I think anytime something like that happens you get a little deflated for a second,” said Vega of giving up the lead. “But I think once we all got back in the dugout and we still had a tie game, everybody was up and everybody was ready to go. The energy was still there. I don’t think there was really a doubt throughout this game.”
Diaz worked a scoreless bottom of the ninth.
“[Manager Kevin Baez] had confidence in me [to finish],” Diaz said. “They told me ‘you got this’ after we got in the run in the eighth and I just went and did my job.”
“What a finish,” Baez said, “I can’t say enough. We knew [the Patriots] weren’t going to let down. They’re a battle-tested team. We knew it was not going to be easy and it wasn’t.”
Ducks starter Jake Dunning walked a tightrope early, but never trailed. Dunning, who signed with the Ducks in mid-July and spent his first month in the bullpen, allowed an unearned run and seven hits in 5 2⁄3 innings. He struck out three and walked one.
Elmer Reyes’ fielding error on a sacrifice bunt in the second inning moved David Vidal to third with no outs, but Alfonzo threw Vidal out at the plate and Gonzalez hit into a double play, saving Dunning from an early deficit.
Said Baez: “He made some pitches when he needed to, got some key strikeouts when he needed to, and got a big double-play ball.”
The Ducks’ offense gave Dunning two runs to play with in the top of the third. Delta Cleary Jr. led off with a double and scored when catcher Gonzalez threw Vega’s sacrifice bunt into rightfield. Vega went all the way to third and scored on Alfonzo’s single to give the Ducks a 2-0 lead.
The Ducks extended their lead in the sixth when Angelo Songco’s double drove in Marc Krauss for a 3-0 lead. The hit chased Somerset starter Patrick Johnson, who allowed three runs and six hits in 5 1⁄3 innings. He struck out three and walked one.
Dunning finally yielded an unearned run in the sixth. Richardson doubled with two outs, went to third on a passed ball, and scored after Dunning threw Guzman’s swinging bunt into the Patriots dugout.