Hey BlueClaws fans, it is Alex Gyr, back after a thrilling home stand. The BlueClaws have improbably pulled themselves back into the playoff chase and find themselves just two games behind Lake County with eight games to go here in the first half.
With the BlueClaws recent success it is easy to forget that just three weeks ago Lakewood was reeling after dropping six straight games. On May 18, the BlueClaws were 19-23 and 7.5 games behind the Captains. Yet here we are with a week to go to the All Star Break and Lakewood is just two games behind and seven games above .500.
Speaking of All Stars, Lakewood saw four players named to the North Division team, the second most in team history. In all honesty though, it could have been more. Dominic Brown and Derrick Mitchell were both left off the squad despite crushing the ball down the stretch and Jared Simon was out, even with 10 saves and five wins.
But congratulations do go out to Michael Taylor, the league MVP at this point in the season, Drew Naylor, Joel Naughton and Mike Durant for their selections. Taylor has been a beast with the bat and a pretty solid argument could be made for Drew Naylor as the top pitcher in the league. There is no one better defensively than Joel Naughton behind the dish and Mike Durant, when healthy, strikes fear in every pitcher in the league. Well deserved for all four.
It is hard to believe that we are already nearing the midway point to the 2008 season, but here we are. The BlueClaws have 34 home games in the books (one home game will be played in Hagerstown this Tuesday), marking the mid-point of the home schedule. So there is no better time than now to count down the top five baseball moments at FirstEnergy Park this season.
5. BlueClaws comeback from four-runs down, May 19 vs. West Virginia: The BlueClaws were in desperate need of some wins after dropping six of their last seven games. Things were looking bleak after the seventh-place Power jumped out to a 5-1 lead off of Jacob Diekman. But Lakewood rallied thanks to a Mike Durant home run and three hits, all extra-bases, for Karl Bolt to come from behind and take a 10-5 win. The victory was the start of a seven-game BlueClaws winning streak.
4. Durant and Taylor put on a show, May 5 vs. Lexington: The BlueClaws big hitters put on a long-ball display on late in an 11-7 victory over the Legends. Durant was first to go deep, putting a monster home run into the centerfield picnic area in the seventh. Taylor put the game out of reach one inning later, crushing a three-run home run to deep centerfield. It was hard to tell which ball was hit harder, but they were both impressive and both were critical to the BlueClaws win.
3. Taylor caps ninth-inning comeback, April 29 vs. Kannapolis: Trailing the Intimidators 4-1 entering the ninth inning, there seemed to be little hope for the BlueClaws in their series opener with Kannapolis. But Wander Perez and Santo Luis could not find the strike zone and the BlueClaws took advantage, to the tune of four runs and a walk-off win. Perez put the first three hitters on base with the free pass before Derrick Mitchell tied the game with a double to leftfield. The Intimidators walked Dominic Brown to get to Taylor, who was 0-for-4 to that point. He needed just one pitch to end the game, scoring Mitchell from second base to earn a 5-4 win.
2. Walk-off wild pitch sinks Shorebirds, June 7 vs. Delmarva: Lakewood had lost a game early in the season to the Shorebirds on a walk-off wild pitch, so it seemed only fitting that the BlueClaws returned the favor. With the bases loaded and two outs in a 4-4 game, Shane Matthews threw one to the backstop, scoring D’Arby Myers from third to end the game. The victory was the first for the BlueClaws in a game in which they were outhit and was essential in keeping the first half hopes alive.
1. Drew Naylor mows them down, June 5 vs. Delmarva: Drew Naylor had been a legitimate ace since Opening Night, but the Australian right-hander put his best stuff on display in a critical matchup with the Shorebirds. Naylor struck out five over the first two innings on his way to a complete-game, 13-strikeout performance. Only Robinson Tejeda, who struck out 14 in 2001, has fanned more in a game. The importance of the game, combined with the absolutely dominating stuff made this a performance that will be remembered at FirstEnergy Park for a long time.
I hope you have enjoyed the first half as much as I have. The BlueClaws will be back at home on June 19 in a potentially meaningful game with the Captains to start the second half. In the event that the teams tie for the first half championship, that game will serve as a one game playoff to determine who punches their ticket to the South Atlantic League playoffs. You can catch all the action from Hagerstown and Delmarva this week on the Shore Sports Network or online at BlueClaws.com.