Fireworks lit up the sky over Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip on Sunday night, a treat for the record-setting crowd of 7,602 fans who joined the Ducks in all the revelry and relief that comes with winning an Atlantic League first-half championship.
The Ducks clinched the Liberty Division first-half title Saturday night, their fifth in franchise history and first since 2012, earning an automatic berth in the playoffs.
“It was great. We haven’t done this in a while,” said Lew Ford, who has battled a hamstring injury. “It shows how hard these guys worked to come back from a tough start.”
Oh, yeah. There was a game Sunday night, too. The Ducks defeated the Sugar Land Skeeters, 5-2, in the first-half finale, the first of 71 post-first half championship-clinching contests that the team will play before the postseason begins Sept. 21.
But if Sunday night was any indication, these Ducks (40-30) have no intention of transforming the world’s longest playoff warm-up into an exercise in summertime malaise.
Hauppauge native Anthony Gatto went 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run in his Ducks debut. Gatto, who was signed Thursday, beat out a roller to shortstop and scored the game’s first run on Carlos Hughes’ double in the second inning. Gatto’s third-inning walk drove in former Met Ruben Gotay and gave the Ducks a 2-0 lead.
The first half was not without adversity for the Ducks. In fact, a case could be made that it was an improbable title, given the circumstances.
First, the slow start. The Ducks lost the first four games of the season to the division rival Somerset Patriots. Two more losses to the expansion New Britain Bees in that first week, and the Ducks were limping at 1-6.
But the nine straight victories that followed took the team from the brink of early-season disaster to the thick of the playoff hunt. They stayed in that hunt despite losing a large portion of their offense to injury. Ford, Dan Lyons, Delta Cleary Jr., Sean Burroughs and Tyler Colvin all spent time on the disabled list.
Cleary and Lyons returned in June at virtually full strength and contributed immediately. Although still hobbled by his hamstring issue, Ford also returned. After falling 2 1⁄2 games behind Somerset on June 23, the Ducks won seven of nine to clinch the playoff berth.
It certainly was a hard-fought championship, one worthy of celebratory fireworks.