Another promised pitcher's duel only half-delivered last night. Columbus Catfish starter Jeremy Hellickson did his part, scattering 4 hits and striking out 5 in 6 innings work as the Catfish beat the Augusta GreenJackets (Giants) 7-1 to take the South Atlantic League Southern Division title in a two game sweep.
Hellickson ran into trouble early, allowing runners on 2nd and 3rd with no one out in the first inning. He got out of it with only one run scored, thanks to handy infield play and a K.
A leadoff triple by Augusta in the 3rd went nowhere. Likewise, a 2-out double in the 4th went for naught.
Offensively, the Catfish took until the 5th inning to solve SAL all-star Ben Snyder. But solve him, they did. Quinn Stewart doubled to get things started. After 2 outs, Jairo De La Rosa doubled, tying the game at 1. Maiko Loyola, who hit 4 homers for the Catfish in 67 games, send a 2-run shot over the wall in right field, giving the Catfish the lead. Joey Callender singled to right, keeping things going. Then Cesar Suarez reached on an error. On the play, Callender scored when the Augusta defense committed a second error on the play. Nevin Ashley singled, scoring Suarez. After Snyder was lifted, Ryan Royster walked. Then, Quinn Stewart tripled, putting the Catfish up 7-1.
The Catfish threatened in the 6th and 8th innings, but couldn't get another run across.
Augusta got 1 base runner the rest of the way, a 1-out walk in the 7th. But the Catfish bullpen held Augusta hitless ... and scoreless. Ryan Owen, Brian Baker, and Neal Frontz pitched near-perfect relief, the only blemish the walk Owen allowed in the 7th. Baker struck out 1 and Frontz 2 as the Catfish won game two of the best-of-three series.
Loyola's three hits paced the Catfish. Stewart was the only other Catfish with multiple hits, as the scoring effort was spread across the lineup.
The Catfish are in the finals for the first time in the franchise history, which only dates to the 2001 Wilmington (NC) Waves. The last Columbus team to make it to league finals were the 2002 RedStixx, who lost to Hickory, 3 games to 2.
The Catfish will either play Hickory or West Virginia for the Sally League title. The Northern Division series will be decided tonight. They are tied at a game apiece.
There weren't a lot of Columbus fans who made the trip to Augusta for the game. Four of us (counting the pre-schooler) sat on one row. And I won't be making the trip to Charleston, West Virginia (or Hickory, North Carolina) Monday for the championship series opener. But I'll be in Columbus Thursday for game three of the series.
The Catfish are trying to bring Columbus their first baseball league championship since the 1986 Columbus Astros won the Southern League, beating Huntsville, 3 games to 1. The last South Atlantic League title won by a Columbus team was the 1940 Red Birds that beat the Macon Peaches, 4 games to 2. That team went on to win the Little Dixie championship, beating Southeastern League champion Jackson (MS) Senators, 4 games to 1. Columbus could have won the SAL title in 1959, but the team moved to Gastonia, NC on July 6 of that year. The Gastonia Pirates won the SAL title in a 3-game sweep of the Charleston ChaSox.