The Ducks remain in first place with two weeks left in the first half and, for a day anyway, they have their bullpen to thank for it. The Ducks pen worked 5 1/3 highly-effective innings and drove the Ducks toward a 7-4 victory over the Lancaster Barnstormers in front on 5,246 fans at a sunny and warm Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip Sunday afternoon.
Vin Mazzaro earned the win after allowing one run, one hit and striking out one in 2 1/3 innings.
“They stepped up and did the job,” Ducks manager Wally Backman said. “…[Mazzaro] stepped up in a spot that I hadn’t used him, but [middle reliever Josh] Lueke needed a day off…The last two days, the bullpen has been the key to so much success. That’s why we’ve played as well as we’ve played.”
David Washington went 3-for-4 with two runs and an RBI. Daniel Fields, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Vladimir Frias all hit home runs for the Ducks.
The Ducks (35-21), who have won three games in a row, are 1 1/2 games in front of the Somerset Patriots and 3 1/2 games in front of the High Point Rockers in the Liberty Division with 14 games left in the first half, which ends on July 7. The winner of the first half earns an automatic playoff berth.
Ducks relievers escaped two jams in the final two innings to hold the lead. After walking the first two batters of the ninth inning, Enrique Burgos struck out pinch hitters K.C. Hobson and Parker Morin and forced a grounder from Michael Martinez that resulted in Anderson De La Rosa being tagged out in a rundown between third and home that ended the game. Burgos earned his sixth save of the year.
An inning earlier, Ducks reliever Michael Tonkin forced Josh Bell to hit into an inning-ending double play with the tying run on base. Tonkin had walked the previous two batters before wriggling out of the jam.
“I got a cutter down in the zone and let him roll over it,” Tonkin said.
Ducks starter Darin Downs allowed two runs (one earned), four hits, struck out five and walked one in 3 2/3 innings. Downs, making his second start since returning from a stint in the Mexican League, is still being stretched out to regular starting length. Backman capped Downs at 60 pitches.
Fields’ three-run home run in the second inning gave the Ducks a 3-0 lead.
“I was just trying to stay aggressive,” Fields said. “[Lancaster starter Kyle Davies] threw me a first-pitch changeup. I saw it well. It kind of stayed up in the zone and I just put a good swing on it.”
Fields left the game after injuring his heel while trying to beat out a ground ball in the fifth and is day-to-day, Backman said.
Nieuwenhuis’ two-out homer in the third gave the Ducks a 4-1 lead. The Ducks scored two more runs in the fifth and Frias’ leadoff home run in the eighth extended the Ducks lead to 7-4.