For Brooklyn baseball fans, Friday, September 5, 2008 will forever be known as Black Friday.
On this day, a Cyclones loss (in extra innings, no less), coupled with a sweep of a double header by the Jamestown Jammers swiftly and painfully eliminated the Brooklyn team from playoff contention, ending their streak of two consecutive New York-Penn League playoff berths.
It also ended a remarkable late season run that saw the ‘Clones rebound from an 18-21 start to win 27 of their last 36 games. Late Thursday night, the ‘Clones seemed on the verge of completing the remarkable comeback, having moved a full game and a half over Jamestown entering the final two games of the season.
But the next day’s games closed the gap, placing both teams in a tie going into Saturday. Tropical Storm Hannah rained out Saturday’s games, however, and with the two teams in a tie, the tie-breaker went to the Jammers because they had won the season series against the Cyclones.
And just like that, an exhilarating summer of baseball in Brooklyn was over.
For all their late-season pluck, the 2008 Brooklyn Cyclones were a very flawed team.
All year long, the ‘Clones struggled to score runs: Their 284 runs scored ranked last in the league by a considerable margin, which is somewhat mystifying considering their combined on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) ranked 6th out of the league’s 14 teams.
Still, there were a handful Cyclones who turned in admirable performances at the plate.
Center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, a 3rd round draft pick in this past June’s draft, led the team with 29 RBIs. The rangy center fielder also came on strong in the season’s second half to raise his batting average to a very respectable .277, to go along with his .348 on-base percentage and .385 slugging percentage.
Third baseman Eric Campbell, a recent 8th round draft pick, stepped in admirably at third base when opening day starter Zach Lutz got injured. Campbell’s .359 on base percentage was tops on the team for players with 100 at bats or more.
The team’s leading home run hitters were catcher Jordan Abruzzo and outfielder Sean Ratliff, each of whom socked seven circuit clouts.
Second baseman Josh Satin, a 6th round draft pick, rebounded from an early-season demotion to Rookie-level Kingsport to become perhaps the team’s best all-around hitter, posting a .280 average, a .350 on-base percentage, and a .462 slugging percentage.
While the hitting may have struggled overall, the Cyclones pitching more than made up for it. The team’s 2.76 earned run average lapped the NYP League competition; the second best pitching staff, the Vermont Lake Monsters, posted a 3.84 team ERA.
No Brooklyn pitcher was more impressive and promising than Brad Holt, whom the Mets selected with the 33rd overall pick in the draft. Holt is a tall, hard-throwing right-hander whose live fastball has invited comparisons to current Met John Maine, Holt led the New York-Penn League in strikeouts and set a single-season Cyclones record by fanning 96 in 72.1 innings. His 5-3 record masked a sparkling 1.87 ERA, second-best in the league.
But Holt wasn’t the only stalwart Brooklyn starter.
Chris Schwinden, a recent 22nd round pick, went 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA. Scott Shaw, a recent 13th round pick, led the team in innings pitched and posted a 6-3 record and a 2.80 earned run average. Yougster Jenry Mejia contributed with a 3-2 record and a 3.49 ERA.
The starting rotation was the unequivocal strength of this team, but the bullpen was no slouch either. Sidewinding lefty Roy Merrit was an everyday workhorse in the middle innings, pitching 42.1 innings of 1.49 ERA ball. The team’s saves were split mostly between hard-throwing closers Yuri Santana and Stephen Clyne.
But it wasn’t enough for the Cyclones, who came into the year with high expectations after having posted the best record in the league last year, along with a chip on their shoulder after the season ended bitterly in a loss in the finals.
As the fall approaches, Cyclones fans will have to take solace in that old Brooklyn baseball adage of “Wait ‘till next year.”
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