The League Divsional Series are now complete, with two of the series going to a deciding 5th game.
The top seeded Fargo Dirtbags once again faced fierce division rival Chicago, while Atlanta and Salem decided to take it to the limit in a series highlighted by three 1-run games.
#5 Chicago Snake Tamers vs. #1 Fargo Dirtbags
Fargo could not wait to begin their playoff run. They jumped on Chicago starter Orber Marin for 7 runs in the first 4 innings, which was more than enough for Cy Young contender Javier Henriquez. The Dirtbags won game 1 in a rout, 10-1
Game 2 looked like it might echo game 1, with Sammy Pierce starting out strong and the Dirtbags getting an Arnold Hunter solo shot in the first to take a 1-0 lead. But the Chicago pitching staff held from there, and RBI singles from Evan Smith and Neifi McBride in the 3rd gave the Snake Tamers a lead they would not relinquish. The Snake Tamers won game 2 by a score of 4-1 to earn a split in Fargo.
Game 3 saw a sold-out crowd at Wrigley treated to a lot of extra baseball. Chicago led 2-1 going into the 8th, but Fargo struck for 2 in the top of the inning to take a 3-2 lead. But in the bottom of the 8th, Fargo closer Alex Javier couldn't hold the lead, as Jay Walker hit a solo homer to tie the game. 6 innings later, the score was still 3-3. In the top of the 15th, Fargo's Alex Lim hit a 2-run home run off of Mateo Guerrero, and Chicago could not match in the bottom of the inning. Fargo emerged with a 5-3 win in a game that saw a total of 469 pitches thrown by 14 pitchers.
Game 4 was eerily similar to game 3, particularly for Chicago fans. This one again went to extra innings, and again Alex Lim rode to the rescue for Fargo. After Fargo's Tomas DeJesus (5th inning) and Chicago's Neifi McBride (6th inning) traded solo homers, the game came down to Jorge Guzman against Lim, and Lim again went deep. That concluded the scoring and the series, as Fargo won 2-1 and took the series in 4.
#6 Salem Sacrifices vs. #2 Atlanta Bandits
Turner Field was abuzz for game 1, and any fan who likes a good old-fashioned pitchers' duel was not disappointed. Salem ace Dave Dunwoody was matched up against Atlanta ace Steven Michaels, and they each pitched 7 shutout innings. Salem's bullpen was the first to crack, as Sacrifices reliever Jimmie Melendez was touched up for a 2-run homer by Albert Martin, which proved to be the only scoring in a 2-0 Bandits win.
Game 2 saw another good pitching matchup in Fred Carter for the home squad against Dwight Salmon for the Sacrifices. Carter cruised through the first 7 innings, gaining a 1-0 lead, but couldn't keep it in the 8th. The bullpen helped to blow it for him, as Alex Sanchez allowed both runners he inherited to score, and Salem took a 3-1 lead. Jimmie Melendez came in and gave up another big home run, this time to pinch hitter Hal Brinkley. His 2-run shot put Atlanta right back into the game, and the game was tied at 3. This is how it remained until the 10th, where a Mo Damon sacrifice fly (which was dropped) and an Alex Aparicio RBI single netted two runs for Salem. Jason Walker hit an RBI triple with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, but Albie Torres struck out to strand him at third and give Salem a 5-4 victory.
Game 3 in Salem was another pitchers' duel, but this one ended in wild fashion. The first 8 innings saw only solo homers in the scoring column, with Salem (Derek Bedard-1st and Karim Ortiz- 5th) outhomering Atlanta (Stan Starr- 1st) 2 to 1. In the 9th, Lynn Abernathy hit an RBI single to tie the game for Atlanta. Salem countered with two straight singles to set up Salem with runners on 1st and 3rd with no one out. Atlanta reliever Orber Marin then threw a wild pitch, allowing pinch-runner Marvin Merceds to score the game-winning run in a 3-2 Salem win.
Game 4 saw Salem starter Dave Dunwoody undone by control issues and poor defense. Dunwoody took a 1-0 lead into the 4th, but he gave up 5 runs, due in large part to a dropped fly ball by CF Nate Cox and back-to-back walks. Salem fought back, but couldn't make up the difference in a 7-4 Bandits win.
The way this series went, it was only natural that game 5 back in Atlanta would be a one-run affair. Carter and Salmon again took the ball for their respective teams, and it looked good for Salmon and company up until the 6th. Mo Damon's 3rd inning 2-run blast put Salem up 2-0, and Salmon had allowed only 4 baserunners through the first 5 innings. But in the 6th, Vicente Romero smacked a 2-run double with one out to tie the game. In the 8th, Jimmie Melendez (not again!) came in to pitch for Salem, and Atlanta got to him again. After retiring the first two hitters, Melendez yielded solo homers to Stan Starr and Romero to give Atlanta a 4-2 lead. Salem promptly loaded the bases with no one out off Atlanta closer Rico Mangual, but managed only a Cooper Roa sacrifice fly with one out and fell short. Atlanta won the game 4-3 and the series 3-2. Fargo and Atlanta will face off in the NLCS.
One series was a clear-cut sweep, while the other went down to the wire and saw a 5th game.
#5 Scranton Janitors vs. #1 Monterrey Sultans
Game 1 in Monterrey saw everything go wrong for the Janitors. Their top starter, J.R.. Guerrero, was injured after retiring only one batter. They couldn't hit Monterrey starter York Burnett or wily veteran Ajax Drabek, failing to score. Tony Escuela started the scoring for the Sultans with a 2-run homer in the 5th, which jumpstarted a 5-0 victory for the home team.
Game 2 was a homecoming for Scranton starter Dennys Fox, pitching his first playoff game in Monterrey since receiving his season 2 ring as a member of the Sultans. Unfortunately for Fox and the Janitors, he didn't pitch particularly well. Monterrey scratched out 4 runs in 4 2/3 innings against Fox, and Scranton had trouble with current Monterrey starter Albert Gonzalez. The Sultans cruised to a 6-2 win.
Game 3 put an end to Scranton's season. Ex-Sultans farmhand Norm Edwards got the start for Scranton, and his former team got 6 straight hits, all with two outs, against him in the 4th for a total of 4 runs. That outburst turned a 1-1 game into a 5-1 Sultans lead, and there was no way Luther Brush would give up that lead. The final was 6-1, ending a 3-game sweep for Monterrey. They take on the winner of...
#3 Louisville Legends vs. #2 Milwaukee Manic Maulers
Louisville doesn't always get mentioned in the same breath as Monterrey and Milwaukee, but they always play both those teams awfully tough in the playoffs. Game 1 in Milwaukee was a great example of this. Lance Stevens pitched 7 shutout innings for the Legends, striking out 11. Milwaukee starter Woody Hiller gave up only an unearned run in the first, and the game was still in doubt when Dick McEnroe and Javier Tavarez added RBI singles in the 8th to stretch the lead out to 3-0. The Legends bullpen held, and Louisville took game 1 by that 3-0 score.
Game 2 saw the Milwaukee bats come to life at just the right time. Down 3-2 in the 8th inning but with the bases loaded, Andre Eckenstahler hit a 2-run single, and Harold Lewis followed with a 3-run homer to give Milwaukee a 7-3 win.
Game 3 in Lousiville contained a familiar theme in the division series- extra innings. Louisville was down 4-1, but drew two bases-loaded walks in the 8th to pull within one, and Cy Hughes crushed a King Burns offering in the 9th to tie the game with a solo homer. But in the 12th, Eckenstahler returned the favor with his own solo shot to give Milwaukee a 5-4 win.
If Louisville was to lose this series, it would not be because of Lance Stevens. Stevens again came to the Legends rescue, giving up only 2 runs in 7 innings, as his offense staked him to a 5-2 lead on the strength of a 2-run single by Amp Palmer in the 5th and a 2-run homer by Pete Mercedes in the following inning. Closer Tom Beltran made it interesting in the 9th, giving up two runs and leaving the tying run on second and the go-ahead run on first as he struck out Benji Borcelo to end a 5-4 Legends victory and setting up a Game 5 in Milwaukee.
Game 5 looked like it would be a nail-biter but turned into a laugher. Louisville's Danny Little and Milwaukee's Woody Hiller were locked up in a 0-0 game through 5 when it all fell apart for Little in the 6th. Brian Dunham managed an inside-the-park 2 run homer and later in the inning Eric Speier's grand slam put the game way out of reach, as Milwaukee put up 7 runs in the inning. Amp Palmer's solo shot was all the offense Louisville could muster, and the Manic Maulers emerged with an 8-1 victory and a series win. They earned the right to play Monterrey in the ALCS.