LOWELL, Mass. — As the days in the New York-Penn League regular season begin to wane, the Lowell Spinners have begun to pick up the pace in the playoff race.
On Wednesday night, the Spinners completed a three-game series sweep of Stedler Division rival Vermont, doubling up the Lake Monsters by an 8-4 score at LeLacheur Park.
The Spinners were resilient on multiple occasions during the game, ultimately earning their third consecutive win and improving to 33-31 on the season.
After being swept at home by Staten Island over this past weekend, this series has been just what the doctor ordered as the Spinners beat Vermont for the eighth time in their nine meetings to date.
“You look at the way we were playing against Staten Island and came off the road trip against Brooklyn, we were dead in the water,” Spinners manager Joe Oliver said. “It’s a funny game where you can come up against a team that, for some odd reason, we’ve played really well against and come up with big plays and had some big hits.”
Coupled with State College’s loss to Williamsport, Lowell now finds itself just one game back of West Virginia for the Wild Card lead in the NYPL. Tri-City is also just 2.5 games clear of the Spinners in the division standings.
The Lake Monsters drew first blood with a run on a pair of hits in the third inning. Two of the first three Vermont batters reached base against Spinners starter Javier Rodriguez with catcher Tom Gavitt scoring on second baseman Trace Loehr’s one-out RBI single.
Lowell did not last long playing from behind as it put together some one-out offense in the bottom half of the inning before taking a 3-1 lead on first baseman Josh Ockimey’s second home run in three games.
Second baseman Chad De La Guerra reached on an error with one out and advanced on a ground ball single to center field from third baseman Victor Acosta. Ockimey took Lake Monsters reliever Andrew Tomasovich deep to right field for a three-run shot — his fourth homer in 45 games this summer — in the next at-bat.
Although Ockimey has been the latest Spinner in an offensive groove, the team has been aided by a strong collective performance over recent games.
As the days and weeks have passed, Oliver has noticed players starting to hit their stride and the fruits of their labor are clearly showing as the home stretch kicks in.
“It’s huge for the ballclub,” Oliver said. “Right now, we’re getting hits from everybody up and down the lineup that are contributing (to the winning streak), but you might not think we’re looking for. It’s somebody stepping up each night.”
Just before Daniel Gonzalez entered the game out of the Spinners bullpen, Vermont battled back and scored two runs to tie the game in the fifth inning.
After a leadoff walk and shortstop Richie Martin’s double, Loehr brought another run through the back door on a one-out ground ball to second base. In the next at-bat, Rodriguez uncorked a wild pitch to the backstop, allowing Martin to score the game-tying run.
But again, Lowell bounced back.
“I just wanted to get a good swing on it and luckily it fell,” Matheny said. “Guys are picking each other up and that’s what makes winning teams. We continue to do it night in, night out and it’s been big for us.”
Matheny’s hit came at a crucial point in the game as it gave the Spinners a two-run lead, but also snapped the center fielder’s simultaneous 0-for-15 and 2-for-30 skids.
Over the course of a grueling season, ups and downs are bound to happen. Matheny knew his time to break out would soon come.
“That’s baseball,” Matheny said. “You play good long enough, it’s going to happen. It just stinks it has to be in my first professional year, but I’m just going to continue to go out there every day and grind at the plate.”
The teams traded runs in the seventh with Vermont designated hitter Seth Brown first cutting the Spinners lead to 5-4 thanks to a two-run double. Acosta drove in a run in the form of shortstop Jeremy Rivera on a grounder to the left side, lifting Lowell’s advantage back to two.
Spoon and designated hitter Mitch Gunsolus started up the Spinner offense once again, leading off the eighth with back-to-back hits. After Matheny struck out, catcher Jhon Nunez singled to left field and Gunsolus scored as Rivera reached on an error when the batting order swung back to the top against Vermont’s Evan Manarino.
The team’s current playoff state is one, especially this late in the season and following three consecutive wins over a divisional foe, Oliver can not help but notice.
“If we win, you can’t help but run in (the clubhouse) and look at the computer to see what’s going on,” the Spinners’ second-year skipper said. “I’m not going to lie to you, but you can’t help this time of year looking to see what other teams are doing.”
Gonzalez earned the win as he scattered his six hits and one earned run over 4.1 innings of relief work while striking out three.
His strong effort out of the bullpen leads Lowell into a crucial three-game series at Connecticut, set to begin with a 7:05 p.m. first pitch Thursday.
The series in Norwich, Conn., presents the Spinners yet another opportunity to take care of their own business in the playoff race as the Tigers sit two games behind in the division.