Revenge, Records In Sight for Brownell

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The 2015 season came to a crashing halt for the Ducks in Games Four and Five of the Liberty Division Championship Series. Long Island had led the series two games to one after a 9-4 rout of the Somerset Patriots in Game Three. However, Will Oliver evened things up with a complete game, three-hit shutout in Game Four. Even with southpaw Roy Merritt slated to face them in the decisive Game Five, the Ducks would be countering with the ace that led them to a second consecutive Atlantic League title in the same situation two years prior. But even with a brilliant effort, John Brownell would have had to be nearly perfect to out-do Merritt, who tossed a four-hit shutout to complete the comeback for Somerset. Long Island’s season was over, and for the first time in the postseason, their ace was mortal.

“It was very frustrating,” recalled Brownell, who became the first Ducks player to sign on for the 2016 season this past Friday. “Unfortunately, I didn’t pitch as well in that playoff series as I had in the regular season. You have to tip your cap to Somerset. They got hot at the right time, kind of like what we did to them a couple years prior.”

The 32-year-old’s performance in the 2013 playoffs, specifically the Championship Series, was one for the ages. He won all three of his postseason starts, two in the finals against Somerset, and compiled a 2.88 ERA in the process. The right-hander’s performance in Game Five, pitching into the ninth inning, on the road and on short rest, will go down as one of the most memorable in league history. That wasn’t his only postseason success on Long Island. Although he wasn’t the ace of the 2012 staff, he yielded just four runs over 12 and two-thirds innings in a pair of Game Four starts, winning the latter to keep Ducks’ season alive.

However, 2015 was a different story. Brownell faced Somerset three times during the regular season and did not get the win in any of them. He allowed six runs in an inning on two separate occasions, and although he allowed just two runs over six innings in the other, he came away with a loss. Despite entering the postseason with confidence, he could not turn things around against the division foes. He surrendered five runs over six innings in a 5-3 loss in Game One and yielded four runs in just four and two-thirds innings in the series finale. The results were so abnormal that it raised the question: Did Brownell make too many mistakes, or did Somerset find a way to overcome his dominance?

“I would say it was a little bit of both but mainly Somerset,” he analyzed. “They did a great job of battling and made it really tough to get guys out. They fouled off a lot of really good pitches. Typically, you’ll make a pitch when you’ve got a guy down in the count and get him out. The odds are just in your favor. In that series, they were just coming up with timely hits and chased me out of the game earlier than I would have liked in both games.”

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Although the ending may have been bitter, 2015 will surely bring up a lot of pleasant memories for Brownell. His team had a great deal of success, putting together 80 wins and leading the league in many statistical categories. On a personal level, it was arguably his best since donning a Ducks uniform. The Omaha resident led the Atlantic League in wins (12), innings pitched (175.2), complete games (4), and shutouts (2). He also led the way in strikeouts with 146, a franchise single season record, besting his mark of 133 set two years prior. In a league full of outstanding starters, Brownell stood above them all, earning the Atlantic League’s Pitcher of the Year award.

“To be recognized as one of the top pitchers is a great honor,” he exclaimed, “but I couldn’t have done it without the Ducks giving me the opportunity to play and having such great teammates last year. They played great defense and provided the offense to give me leads. It makes it a lot easier when you’ve got good defense behind you and an offense putting up runs for you to take some of the pressure off.”

This season is set to be another memorable one for the key pieces of the Ducks’ current core. Not only will he have another chance to compete for a third Atlantic League championship, but he is also slated to make some history in the process. In 2015, Brownell became the team’s all-time strikeouts leader with 424. He enters this year with 36 wins, 85 games, 84 starts and 560 and one-third innings pitched in a Long Island uniform. That leaves him just four wins, eight games, seven starts and 27 innings shy of tying the franchise record in each category. Randy Leek, a Long Island native and another fan favorite, holds each of those records. Despite entering some exclusive territory, Brownell remains focused on one thing, and one thing only: winning.

“It’s not something that I think about because it is a team game,” he stated. “Ultimately you want to win games and win championships. It’s very exciting to be up there as one of the leaders in some of those categories for such a great franchise. A lot of great players have been through there. It’s exciting, but it’s not something I think about a whole lot. I just want to be on a winning team and play for championships.”

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There is still a long way to go before Brownell can begin his quest for another title. He is just one piece of a puzzle that will begin the season on April 21st. It is a safe bet to expect some returners from last year along with some newcomers on the roster. While it’s certainly not his job to sign his fellow teammates, he is surely hoping for many of the former.

“I think we were right there last year,” Brownell said. “We had a championship-caliber team last year. We were right up there in terms of pitching and defense, and we led the league in hitting. Things just didn’t go our way in the playoffs. I’ll leave the team-building up to management, but like I said, I feel like we were right there and it just didn’t fall our way.”

It remains a mystery as to why no Major League organization has given Brownell an opportunity given his success in the Atlantic League. Still, it remains very possible that one team could make the phone call to sign him at any point. This remains an obvious goal for the righty, as it would be for almost anyone playing professional baseball. However, if one of the 30 clubs is not his landing spot, he’s perfectly content with playing on Long Island. In fact, there’s no place he’d rather be.

“As long as I’m playing and it’s not with an affiliated team, Long Island is basically my home,” Brownell affirmed. “They’ve treated me well and have given me an opportunity that a lot of people haven’t given me in my career, and I’m very thankful for that. I’m a loyal guy too, so I’m going to stay a Duck!”

As for his goals in 2016, he stated, “I just want to compete, play hard, do my best and try to bring another championship to Long Island. I’m hopeful that I’ll get an opportunity with an affiliated team, but if that doesn’t happen, I’m happy with Long Island and excited for another go at a championship in the Atlantic League.”

Finding a consistent, proven ace for a starting rotation is not an easy task for any team. No one could have known for sure exactly what the Ducks were getting in 2012 when Brownell came to Long Island from Grand Prairie in a late-season trade. He was acquired to help the Ducks in their playoff run. No Atlantic League team had seen him before. Since then, Long Island has ended up with a pair of rings, a Championship Series MVP, a Pitcher of the Year, and arguably, the greatest pitcher in team history.

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Posted on February 1, 2016, in Player Signings and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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