The Pearl werent dancing in champagne showers. There wasnt even any sparkling apple cider spilled. The Pearl clinched a spot in the California Collegiate League playoffs, but they werent in the mood to celebrate after Sundays 4-3 loss to the Menlo Park Legends.
The Pearl (28-22, 15-15 CCL) clinched at least the lone wildcard spot due to the SoCal Catch (23-22, 13-19) getting swept by the LA Brewers 7-5, 9-0, 10-2 in a 3-game series this weekend. It might have been more uplifting to clinch with a win the Pearl arent complaining.
Were excited either way. A year ago, this team eliminated us from the playoffs, Pearl manager Brant Cummings said. Friday we are one of the four teams that get to square off for the championship. The other seven teams are going home and I wouldnt trade places with any of them.
The Walnut Creek Crawdads (22-24, 16-15) hold a .5 game lead on the Pearl in the North Division going into the final 3 days of the season. Both teams will travel to the CCL 4-team, double-elimination playoffs, which begins Friday at Sinsheimer Stadium in San Luis Obispo. The host SLO Blues (36-12, 27-11) and Brewers (27-7, 24-7) have already clinched their divisions with the Brewers clinching the No. 1 seed. The Pearl would be fighting for their division and the lone playoff spot coming out of the North Division if not for the Santa Barbara Foresters withdrawing from the CCL playoffs to play in the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas.
The Crawdads close their schedule Monday against the PUF Caps (13-19, 10-19). The Crawdads come into tonights contest having lost 5 straight including a 10-5 loss against the PUF Caps last Thursday. The Pearl finish out their season with games against the PUF Caps at 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at Gunn High in Palo Alto.
Cummings said he doesnt think it will make much difference whether the Pearl get the 3 or 4 seed, because of the top of his rotation.
Weve got a strong top of the rotation with Zach Fox and Andrew Boes, Cummings said of his aces, who have very different approaches, but similar results. Theyre both 6-1 on the year and Fox is coming off that complete-game, 2-1 victory yesterday.
Cummings said hell likely start Boes, who has 51 strikeouts and 17 walks in 53 innings, on the playoff opener Friday. Boes struck out 9 in eight innings, holding a 10-1 lead after four innings before coasting home to a 20-5 victory over the Legends in his final start of the season last Friday. Fox, who has just 6 walks and 30 strikeouts in 53 innings, will likely start game 2 on Saturday.
The pitching has been steady with closer Evan Rutter (1 walk, 20 strikeouts in 14 innings with 6 saves) there to finish games off, but the offense has been inconsistent much of the season.
I think for us, all year, weve had a problem executing our offense at critical stages in the game, Cummings said. We had runners on first and second with no outs in the second inning and we failed to get a bunt down. Later in the eighth, we get 2 on and we get the bunt down and we get back-to- back strikeouts with the tying run on third. Youve got to get contact there.
The Pearl built a 1-0 lead in the fourth behind the speed of Marcus Vidales. He reached first by forcing a wild throw by the second baseman by hustling down the line. Mason Fishback followed with a 1-out single to right and Vidales aggressively rounded third and headed for home. The throw beat him by a second, but the catcher bobbled the throw, which was right on target, allowing Vidales to slide in safely.
Jake Meloche held the Legends to 3 hits and 3 walks through the first 5 innings before running into trouble in the sixth. A seeing-eye single, walk and sacrifice bunt set the table for a 2-run bloop single by Jordan Winawer. Meloche hit the next batter and was removed by Cummings for Rutter, who was unable to slam the door due to an error by shortstop Matt Campbell and a first-and-third double steal.
I was in a zone, focused, Meloche said. They werent that great of a hitting team so I was just trying to throw it to the catcher. In the sixth inning I lost focus. Baseball can be a very humbling game and when you lose focus it can come back and bite you in the butt. A couple weak singles and a walk and then I hit a batter, compounding my mistakes. It was a tough loss for us and for me. I wish I couldve done better.
Trailing 4-1 after 6, the Pearl rallied for 2 in the seventh with Eric Sapp taking his team-leading 16th hit-by-pitch and a single fisted by Miles Babbitt fisted over the first baseman setting the table. Ozzy Braff followed with a 2-run double off the chain link monster in left above the 323-feet sign.
Baseball is a crazy game, said Braff who was left stranded at second after back-to-back strikeouts. You can never give up and I felt like we had a shot to win all the way through the game. We stayed in there and it was close in the end.
The Pearl ended the eighth and ninth in similar fashion, stranding runners on second and third after back-to-back strikeouts. A single by Braff (3-for-5) and an error put runners on first and second with one out in the ninth before Tom Flippen entered and quickly exited by inducing a 6-4-3 double play ball from Vidales to get the save.
Although the Pearl were frustrated by the loss, many of them were already focusing on the remainder of the season.
We have to put that all in the past, Meloche said. We have to focus. Its a new week and it doesnt matter if youve lost 10 in a row or won 10 in a row, but it would be nice to win these last 2 to get some momentum going into the payoffs.
Part of that new focus will be making team success the priority, during a summer league that is often more about individual growth.
Wherever he puts me I need to try to give us our best chance to win, said Meloche, who expressed some concern that his shaky finish may have cost him a spot in the post-season rotation. I wanted to be part of the playoffs and I want the team to win.