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The Mariners finished strong to secure a spot in the Appalachian League playoffs, starting Saturday night.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
PULASKI - For those who measure life by the inning, few pleasures exceed bonus baseball. As is true with most things, the best bonus baseball is the kind that is earned.
Payday arrives tonight for the Pulaski Mariners and the other three Appalachian League semifinalists who slugged it out through 67 games to earn a shot at a few more games in the two-round playoffs.
The Mariners (41-27) lost to Elizabethon 8-7 in the regular-season finale on Friday, but maintained the best record in the league and a half-game lead in the East Division over the Bluefield Blue Jays (40-27), who lost 8-5 to Kingsport.
As a result, Pulaski and Bluefield will square off in the best-of-three semifinal starting 7 p.m. Saturday night in Bluefield, W.Va. the home ballpark of the runners-up.
Game 2 and Game 3, if necessary, will be played at Calfee Park on Sunday and Monday.
The first place Kingsport Mets (39-27) and Greeneville Astros (38-29) are the contestants in the other semifinal. The championship series starts Tuesday if there are first round sweeps, Wednesday otherwise. The East survivor has home field advantage in the best-of-three title round.
Pulaski closed strong to get where it is by playing .578 ball over the last 30 games leading into the season finale. The Mariners moved back into first place Thursday for the first time since July 12.
"A lot of the players here went through extended spring training together and we've been together all summer after that," outfielder Isaiah Yates said. "We have a good bond, good chemistry. We all get along well. Latin guys, American guys, everybody - we just have a good team bond."
Good players, too. Right-hander Edwin Diaz (5-2, 1.43 earned run average) was voted league pitcher of the year and shortstop Tyler Smith player of the year. They are two of Pulaski's league-leading four all-stars. The other two, since promoted to Everett, were right-handed closer Emilio Pagan (0.00 ERA, 12-for-12 save opportunities) and outfielder Ian Miller (.297).
Speaking of promotions, between those and injuries, the Mariners go into the weekend with a depleted ballclub from a manpower standpoint.
"Unfortunately, we're so low on players I only have three guys on the bench," Pulaski manager Chris Prieto said. "Guys have to play all the way through the season. Whereas I would have liked to have given some guys days off, I haven't been able to do that."
Although he wouldn't ever say so, the manager would just as soon be happy leaving some guys in the lineup. Two that might fit that description are outfielder Wilton Martinez and first baseman Kristian Brito. Those two have combined for 22 home runs, 12 by Martinez. They are the big power producers for the Mariners, whose 52 home runs rank first in the league. Pulaski has 10 more than second place Bluefield. Martinez and Brito are two of the 12 Mariners who have gone deep this season.
In most every respect, Pulaski has been the circuit's dominant offensive ballclub. The Mariners lead the league in runs (345), batting average (.266), RBIs (316), doubles (123), slugging (.413), total bases (925) and steals (101). Pulaski is one-hundredth of a point back of the leader in on-base percentage. Mariners steals exceed the closest pursuer by 36.
The pitching has been a little less spectacular but still highly effective. The team's ERA of 3.39 ranks fourth in the league and its 589 strikeouts are second.
"This team has been resilient all year," Brieto said. "They've done a great job. They've earned the opportunity that's in front of them. We'll see what happens. I'm proud of all these guys."
Pulaski 000 000 601 000 - 7 10 2
Elizabethton 001 004 020 001 - 8 18 1
De La Cruz, Thieben (5), Gonzalez (7), Marte (8), De Meyer (9), Cowan (10) and Guarnaccia; Landa, Mendonca (7), Eades (7), Martinez (9), Malinowski (10) and Garver.
W - Malinowski (4-3), L - Cowan (0-1), HR - Ugueto (8).
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