Thunder sweep New Hampshire, move on to ELCS
Damon Sublett and Rene Rivera each socked home runs, and phenom Manny Banuelos threw the game of his life in an 8-1 win that sealed a series sweep and sent Trenton to its third Eastern League Championship Series in the last four seasons.
Just as it had been all series long, strong starting pitching carried the Thunder past a Fisher Cats squad that not only had vexed them throughout the regular year, but also led the league with 723 runs.
Trenton’s arms put those bats on ice, holding them scoreless for 29 of the set’s 30 innings, with the lone score coming in last night’s final frame.
Even Tony Franklin, the skipper who has overseen the franchise’s overwhelming surge of success since 2007, couldn’t have imagined such a lopsided outcome to the opening round.
He even went so far as to anoint the Thunder’s win as the three most complete games he’s seen since he’s been at the helm.
“These would be hard to top. These would be hard to top,” he said, “especially with the youngsters that we have and the newness on the pitching staff that we’ve got assembled here now.”
Banuelos, who at 19 years old stands as the youngest player on the team, overcame a bit of nerves early to pitch the game of his life. In the process, he earned his first win in his 16 starts this season.
“At the beginning of the game, it was a little tense. I was a little bit nervous about it” he said. “Once I started throwing my stuff, I knew my stuff was good and I kind of relaxed and just let it go.”
Overall, Banuelos needed just 73 pitches to knife through the Fisher Cats order, allowing five hits and three walks against five strikeouts. One of those five came against Edwin Encarnacion, a major league veteran who confessed to Franklin later that even he was overpowered by what Banuelos brought to the table.
“He was comfortable tonight, and he let it all hang out. Edwin Encarnacion said ‘Boy, that’s a pretty good fastball.’ He probably doesn’t see a lot of fastballs like that in the major leagues.”
On offense, series MVP Rivera once again provided the big blow. His two-run shot off of New Hampshire starter Scott Richmond – another major league veteran – put the Thunder up 3-1 in the seventh inning and drained whatever hope remained on New Hampshire’s side.
“It’s great, man,” he said, before deferring most of the credit to his teammates. “It’s a great feeling to be available to help the team in any way I can. The team played well, great defense, pitching was outstanding, they only got one run in three games.”
From here, the Thunder wait. Altoona topped Harrisburg last night and now hold a 2-1 advantage in their division series.
To catcher Austin Romine, however, none of that matters. He’s plenty confident about his team’s future moving forward. In fact, when asked if the team had a preference about who it would face in round two, he said this:
“No. We don’t care. We’re going to beat them.”