Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Thunder clinch playoff spot

TRENTON — The Thunder didn’t celebrate Tuesday night, but they did exhale deeply.
After missing their first opportunity to do so Monday, the Thunder clinched a playoff spot by beating the New Britain Rock Cats 7-4 on a beautiful evening at Waterfront Park. That accomplishment had appeared to be a mere formality a month ago, but a 3-12 stretch in the middle of August raised some doubts. Now, the Thunder can breathe easy.
"Everybody can breathe now," manager Tony Franklin said. "Certainly we can relax a little bit more and just play baseball. The next goal is to finish on top (of the division)."
New Britain starter Steve Hirschfeld did not have a good day. Second baseman David Adams launched a solo shot off the advertising in left field in the first inning, and in the second shortstop Addison Maruszak hit one out to center. Kevin Mahoney followed Maruszak with a double off the wall, and was brought home when Rob Segedin slapped a double of his own down the third-base line.
Center fielder Adonis Garcia then drove one out to center, bringing home Segedin. After a J.R. Murphy singled and Adams walk, Zoilo Almonte singled home Murphy and ended Hirschfeld’s day. The Thunder ended the second inning up 6-0.
"This team has put up big big-fly numbers this year, so it’s only fitting," Adams said adout the team’s power surge.
Maruszak left the game in the fourth inning after fouling a ball off his leg, but doesn’t believe the injury is serious.
"It just got under my barrel enough for me to square it up and hit myself in the calf," he said.
Meanwhile, Nuno looked like the pitcher that he was earlier in the year, giving up just a single run in six innings. Nuno allow six hits, but was helped by a solid defense behind him, which turned a pair of double plays. Typically around the zone, Nuno didn’t walk a batter and struck out three.
"He’s been really good," Franklin said of Nuno. "When we’re looking for somebody to get us a win and stop a slide, he’s been the guy."
Deibinson Romero was responsible for the only blemish on Nuno’s night, a solo homer in the fifth.
Garcia added an insurance run in the sixth with his second home run of the game, this one off reliever Dakota Watts.
Graham Stoneburner relieved Nuno, and after a scoreless seventh gave up a run before recording an out. That prompted Franklin to put in Yankees lefty-specialist Pedro Feliciano, who is with the Thunder on a rehab assignment. Feliciano managed just one out and allowed two inherited runners to score. He left with the score 7-4.
"I tried to be too nasty with the righty," Feliciano said. "I was trying to be too fine instead of throwing it down the middle and making them swing."
Ryan Pope then came on and got two quick outs to end the New Britain threat. He stayed in for the ninth to get the five-out save, striking out Aaron Hicks for the last out of the game.
The Thunder chose not to celebrate simply making the playoffs, instead electing to act like they’ve been there before. The choice reflected the old-school sensibility of their manager, who was at the helm for back-to-back Eastern League titles in 2007 and 2008.
"We’ll celebrate like no other when we do what we came here to do," Franklin said. "We haven’t won anything yet."


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