While strikeouts threatened to doom the Ducks’ season Thursday night in New Jersey, Nick Struck might have saved it Friday night on Long Island. Facing elimination in Game 3 of the Liberty Division Championship Series, Struck gave the Ducks exactly what they needed, pitching seven strong innings in a 7-1 victory over the Somerset Patriots at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip. The Ducks trail the best-of-five series 2-1, with Game 4 scheduled for Saturday evening.
Struck, a 26-year old righthander, was masterful in the must-win game, allowing one run on four hits, striking out three and walking two.
“I felt no pressure,” he said. “I have 24 guys behind me. We just wanted to set the tone early, make good pitches, get guys out, and give our guys an opportunity to win.”
Fehlandt Lentini’s RBI single in the bottom of the third inning drove in Patchogue native Anthony Vega to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead. It was the first run the Ducks had scored since the fourth inning of Game 1.
They added to their lead in the fourth when former-Met Ruben Gotay’s single drove in former-Twin Lew Ford. Ford broke the game open in the sixth with a two-run home run to centerfield.
“I got a fastball,” Ford said. “He struck me out earlier in the game on a fastball away. I was trying to make some good contact and finally got some good wood on the ball and was happy to see it get over the fence.”
Other than a Bryan LaHair home run in the seventh — a bad pitch that would prove to be meaningless — Struck kept Somerset far away from threatening for most of the night. After Game 1 hero Scott Kelly led off the sixth with a double and moved to third on a groundout, Struck got Eric Farris to hit into an inning-ending double play, prompting him to scream into the air with enthusiasm fitting of the do-or-die ballgame.
“I knew I had to make a pitch,” Struck said. “We got Farris down 0-2, made the pitch I wanted to, and left it up to my defense.”
The Ducks tacked on another run in the seventh and two more in the eighth, including a solo home run by Tyler Colvin.
Somerset starting pitcher Alexis Candelario allowed four runs on nine hits and struck out seven in six innings.