During the 2013 Atlantic League playoffs, the Ducks relied on a formidable starting pitching rotation to help lead them to a championship. John Brownell, who was voted as the Team MVP during the regular season, would be the ace of the staff. Newcomer Shaun Garceau would start Game Two, providing the Ducks with an arm that most in the league had not seen since he joined the team in September. Atlantic League veteran Bob Zimmermann would take the ball in Game Three and be followed in Game Four by Bobby Blevins, who won two decisive Game Fives during the 2012 championship run. If it got to Game Five, Brownell would take the ball on short rest.
As of Tuesday, three-quarters of that playoff rotation is now back with Long Island in their quest to be the league’s first-ever team to ‘three-peat.’ After Blevins and Brownell re-signed with the Ducks last week, Garceau officially joined the Flock for a second season on Tuesday. There is still plenty of work to be done before finalizing the roster for the 2014 season, but you can’t ask for a better 1-2-3 in your rotation than those three.
We’ve already detailed the playoff success of Blevins here on the blog, but let’s focus a little on Brownell. He first joined the Ducks late in 2012 and had some ups and downs in six games (four starts) to close the season. In the playoffs though, he was rock solid in two Game Four performances. His lines:
Game 4 Liberty Division Championship Series – Ducks lost 4-3
ND, 6.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 105 pitches, 61 strikes
Game 4 Atlantic League Championship Series – Ducks won 9-3
W, 6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 101 pitches, 59 strikes
The right-hander left both of those games with the lead. On the friendly mound of Bethpage Ballpark, Brownell put together a pair of strong performances including a must-have start with the team facing elimination against Lancaster in the league finals. He followed that up with a strong 2013 season with the Ducks, posting a 3.89 ERA, 133 strikeouts and a league-high seven complete games. Again though, it was the playoffs where Brownell truly elevated his game:
Game 1 2013 Liberty Division Championship Series – Ducks won 6-2
W, 9.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 12 K, 136 pitches, 89 strikes
Game 1 2013 Atlantic League Championship Series – Ducks won 4-3
W, 8.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 120 pitches, 78 strikes
Game 5 2013 Atlantic League Championship Series – Ducks won 6-4
W, 8.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, 105 pitches, 66 strikes
Brownell’s playoff performances last season were remarkable. He pitched into the ninth inning twice, including a complete game effort where he set a franchise postseason record by striking out 12. He essentially had no pitch count and gave everything from start to finish. Two wins to bookend the ALCS made him a clear choice for the Series MVP award, especially when he followed up two heartbreaking losses by the Ducks with a strong start in the final game. Two seasons, five outstanding playoff starts and a final postseason line that looks like this:
4-0 Record, 2.87 ERA, 37.2 IP, 27 H, 12 R, 12 ER, 10 BB, 27 K
There is every reason to get excited about having a clutch performer like that back on the Ducks roster for this season. He is the hands-down ace of the pitching staff as the roster currently stands.
As for Shaun Garceau, he joined the Ducks late in the 2013 season, just like Brownell did in 2012. The addition of an unfamiliar arm to the league proved to benefit the Ducks the year prior and would do so again last season. When the righty joined Long Island, the team had still yet to clinch a playoff spot. Needing a lift to the rotation, Garceau provided it with three quality starts in September:
September 3 at Southern Maryland – Ducks won 5-3
W, 7.0 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 92 pitches, 67 strikes
September 8 vs. Sugar Land – Ducks lost 2-1
L, 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 118 pitches, 74 strikes
September 14 at Somerset – Ducks won 4-0
W, 9.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 105 pitches, 72 strikes
Garceau pitched well enough to win all three, but a dominant start against the division rival Blue Crabs and a masterful complete game, two-hit shutout in Somerset were extremely important victories. It would have been a major blow to the organization to miss the playoffs a year after winning a championship, but the addition of Garceau helped avoid that possibility. Come playoff time, he had some bumps in the road but ultimately started two more Ducks victories:
Game 2 2013 Liberty Division Championship Series – Ducks won 6-5
ND, 6.2 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 97 pitches, 72 strikes
Game 2 2013 Atlantic League Championship Series – Ducks Won 3-2
W, 7.0 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 101 pitches, 77 strikes
His first outing of the postseason did not feature the same dominance as his previous three starts in a Ducks uniform, but he was able to give the Ducks length despite allowing 10 hits. That prevented the Flock from using a lot of their bullpen early in the series. He also limited the damage enough that the Blue Crabs could not blow the game wide open, allowing the Ducks to rally back for a win. Then against the Patriots, he was back to his dominant self, out-dueling lefty Roy Merritt to give the Ducks a 2-0 lead in the series. In five starts with the Ducks, Garceau pitched phenomenally well:
3-1 Record, 2.21 ERA, 36.2 IP, 33 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 5 BB, 28 K
After two seasons of arriving on Long Island in September, Blevins has signed on for a full year in 2014. After coming to the Ducks in September of 2012, Brownell returned for a full 2013 season and is back again this year. Garceau was another late season addition during the 2013 campaign and has now made it clear he wants to spend a full season at the Duck Pond. What’s the common theme here? These guys WANT to be here. Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff has made it a point over the last three seasons to sign guys that have a burning desire to play on Long Island. In that time, the team has gone to three Atlantic League Championship Series and won two of them. It is too early to predict any outcomes for this year, but it is clear how much many from last year’s championship squad want to be back. The hope is that it will once again lead to good things. Get excited Ducks fans!
Make it six members of last season’s Atlantic League championship squad and four guys who played with the Flock during the 2012 and 2013 championship seasons who have come back for 2014. Bobby Blevins has signed on to play for the Ducks in 2014, the team announced on Wednesday, making him the 10th player to join the roster this year. For Ducks fans, it’s a welcome sight. A key member of both title winners will now begin the season on Long Island rather than join at the end.
Every Atlantic League team reinforces their roster come late August/early September once the season ends in the American Association and Can-Am League, two other independent leagues. Teams that are in the playoff hunt or those that have already punched their ticket will be especially active in signing seeking out additional talent. For the Ducks the last two years, Blevins has been one of the guys that has been one of those key late-season reinforcements.
In two seasons pitching with the Ducks, he has appeared in eight regular season games (six starts). The numbers on Blevins:
Innings Pitched: 39.0
Earned Runs: 14
Home Runs Allowed: 1
Blevins has been outstanding down the stretch for Long Island, but his performances in the playoffs are what stand out the most. He’s pitched in three postseason games with the Ducks, and though he personally hasn’t earned a decision in either, the Ducks won two elimination games with the other serving as one of the most classic games in Atlantic League history. Let’s take a look at them:
2012 Liberty Division Championship Series – Game Five
Blevins’ Line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 2 K
Long Island had shocked Southern Maryland by winning Games One and Two at Regency Furniture Stadium. However, the Blue Crabs stunned the Ducks right back by taking Games Three and Four at Bethpage Ballpark, setting up a winner-take-all Game Five. Blevins tossed three perfect innings to open the game and carried a 2-1 lead into the fifth. However, Southern Maryland took the lead on a groundout and sac fly. Still, the righty pitched a scoreless sixth inning and kept the Ducks within one. Two innings later, Bryant Nelson launched a two-run homer, Shawn Williams added a RBI single and Leo Rosales closed the door on a 5-4 series-clinching win.
2012 Atlantic League Championship Series – Game Five
Blevins’ Line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K
The Ducks had found a way to battle back from 1-0 and 2-1 series deficits to force a decisive Game Five. Facing Dwayne Pollok, the leagues’ Pitcher of the Year, Long Island gave Blevins four runs of support with two in the first, one in the second and one in the fifth. Blevins made just two mistakes all game, solo homers to Tommy Everidge and Ryan Harvey, but was strong on the mound throughout. Leaving with a 4-2 lead in the seventh, the Ducks were poised to give him the championship-clinching victory. However, a stunning rally in the ninth tied the game at two. Fortunately, Dan Lyons quickly turned the shock to jubilation with his walk-off bunt single in the bottom of the frame to secure the championship for Long Island.
2013 Atlantic League Championship Series – Game Four
Blevins’ Line: 8.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K
In what would be one of the greatest games in the Atlantic League’s history, Blevins took the ball to try and close out the series over Somerset. Determined to get his first postseason win, the righty allowed just two baserunners over the first six innings of the game. The Ducks had a 1-0 lead in the seventh, but two singles and a RBI double tied the game up. Blevins rebounded with a perfect eighth inning and left the game hoping for another ninth inning rally. However, neither side would push across a run until the 16th when Angel Sanchez’s walk-off single tied the series some five hours and 18 minutes after the first pitch was thrown. While Blevins took a no-decision and the Ducks failed to close the series, Blevins’ performance was once again outstanding.
These three games, and the Briarcliff native’s overall pitching on Long Island, has spoken for itself. He’s been a great addition to the staff and is sure to be an important piece of manager Kevin Baez’s rotation in 2014. Let’s hear from the man himself about his decision to start the year with Long Island and his experience winning two championships with the Ducks:
Why did you decide to begin the 2014 season here with the Ducks?
“For me, it’s a great opportunity, especially at the point of my career where I am. I’m at the highest level, and I’m coming down to begin a part of something special. Being part of championships the past two years really made me want to start from the beginning and try for something extremely special in the highest profile league that there is out there…It’s just a great organization with great character, great fans and an especially great coaching staff. Being a part of it for the last two years really made me want to come back from the beginning and see what happens.”
When you first came to Long Island in 2012, was it tough joining the team so late in the season?
“The second I walked through the door, it was not tough at all. I knew a couple of guys from the past, but honestly, the clubhouse was very welcoming and that made it all that much easier. Especially me being from about an hour away and having some family out on Long Island, it’s just another home for me. That’s what I liked about it, especially with the front office and everyone around the organization. They just made it feel like home, and that’s really why I wanted to come back.”
What was the experience like for you to win the first title in 2012?
“It was almost a storybook ending to my 2012 season where I came down and got to be a part of something special with a remarkable ending. Of course, it was capped off by Dan Lyons’ bunt for a base hit. One of the biggest things for me was coming down, being a part of a new team and being welcomed so quickly. It was like I was part of them for the whole year.”
What do you think has been the biggest contributing factor to your postseason success?
“That I can stay composed. I’m out there to win every time and give my team a chance to win every time. I strive for the big situations because I’m an undersized guy as a pitcher, and any time I can get a chance to be in a big moment, make myself bigger than what I am, and make the team bigger than what I am, you can’t ask for any better situation. I finally got those opportunities, and I just tried my best to make the most of them. I was brought in to help the team win, and that was part of my job.”
How much have you enjoyed being a part of pitching coach Steve Foucault’s staff?
“He’s just an awesome guy, very personable. You can tell him anything, and he doesn’t judge. He’s very helpful with his mindset. He understands what it takes to go out there every fifth day or even with your bullpens and training. When I first got down there in 2012 I never had a curveball, and he decided to show me the grip. Next thing you know it was added to my repertoire, and it became a very useful pitch for me the last two years. I continue to want to go down there with ‘Fookie’ and grow from him. I think being down there for a full season will be extremely helpful, and I’m excited to see where it can go.”
Talk about the importance of coming back to a team with so many returning players:
“With teams that have won championships, it’s tough to keep them together, but the biggest thing you’ve got there is experience and people that know what it takes to win. They know what it takes when it comes down to the tough parts of the season, how to get through it and how to stay healthy. Overall, it’s going to take that leadership to go for three in a row. I’m not jinxing it or anything, but it’s something that’s out there that’s never been done [in Atlantic League history]. It makes a lot of people hungry. What better place to do it than Long Island, one of the best organizations out there?”
Only time will tell if Blevins and the Ducks can make history this season. Either way, the signing of the 29-year-old is sure to excite fans of Long Island’s hometown team and increase the hopes of a third consecutive championship. Bobby is thrilled to be coming back to the Ducks, and having players excited about playing here is exactly what you want on your ball club.
Happy Friday Ducks fans! On this January 10, 2014, we here at Bethpage Ballpark are celebrating the birthday of manager Kevin Baez. Today, the Atlantic League veteran and former New York Met turns 47 years old. Baez has been one of the most recognizable faces in a Ducks uniform since coming to the Duck Pond in 2002, the team’s third year of existence. Now over a decade later, he is getting ready to embark on another season of Ducks baseball, their 15th Anniversary Season.
As a player with the Flock, Baez had many great moments during parts of four seasons with Long Island. From a championship to an All-Star Game MVP award to countless exciting games, the list goes on and on. Then, during the 2005 campaign, he became a player/coach before moving to a full-time coaching position in 2006. He eventually became the team’s manager in 2011, and his success since taking over that role has been incredible. Two more championship rings are now added to his resume along with memories that Ducks fans and his players will never forget. Let’s take a look back at some of Kevin’s top moments as a player as well as during his coaching career with the Ducks.
2004 was a magical year for many reasons with the Ducks, but one night that will stand out for Baez was that of Wednesday, July 14. At Campbell’s Field in Camden, New Jersey, the Ducks shortstop was representing the North Division at the Atlantic League All-Star Game. Playing for Buddy Harrelson, who was managing the North Division squad that season against Somerset’s Sparky Lyle, Baez put together a 2-for-4 performance with two RBI and scored the go-ahead run, leading the North to a 10-8 victory over the South Division. The win broke a two-game losing streak for the North Division, and Baez’s performance earned him the Most Valuable Player Award in the Midsummer Classic.
Later during that 2004 season, Baez and the Ducks earned their first ever postseason berth with a thrilling victory over the Bridgeport Bluefish to decide the First Half champion. In the postseason, Long Island defeated the Nashua Pride two games to one to win the North Division before heading to face Camden for the Atlantic League title. A pair of walk-off wins put the Ducks on top two games to none, and on the field where Baez won MVP honors earlier that season, he helped lead the Ducks to a series sweep and the franchise’s first ever Atlantic League championship. Baez hit .263 in the postseason during the 2004 campaign and his hit by pitch in Game Three of the Series brought home the game-winning run. Not to mention, his defense at short was also critical in leading the Ducks to the trophy and his first-ever championship in 17 seasons of professional baseball.
Major League franchises twice came calling for Baez during his time with the Ducks. The first was in 2003, Baez’s second season in the green and orange. The shortstop hit .293 in 92 games that season and was named to the Atlantic League All-Star Team. Because of his success, the Cincinnati Reds signed the then 36-year-old on August 3, and he would go on to play 10 games with Triple-A Louisville. Four years later, Baez was serving as the infield coach for the Ducks when the Mets came calling. Baez reported in May to the Mets’ spring training facility in Port St. Lucie and then coached in New York’s minor league system during the summer. The team which he played three seasons and 63 games for now was giving him another chance once his playing days were complete.
There was a great deal of pressure on Kevin Baez in 2011, his first as a manager for the Ducks. Following a disappointing 2010 campaign, the former Duck infielder was tasked with leading the Ducks back to the postseason after the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Baez and a talented roster of veteran leadership and energetic youth set out on a mission from day one and put together one of the best regular seasons in Ducks history. Long Island went 40-23 in the First Half to secure a playoff spot and kept their foot on the gas in the second half, posting a 38-24 record. For the first time in franchise history, the team had won both the first and second half titles in the Liberty Division. Baez then went on to lead the Ducks to a 3-1 series win over Southern Maryland in the first round of the playoffs. While their magical run eventually ended in Game Four of the ALCS against York, there’s no discounting the success that first season was for the newest Ducks skipper.
2012 presented a bit more of a roller coaster ride for Baez in his second year as manager. He led the Ducks to another outstanding first half at 39-30, becoming the first manager in Ducks history to win back-to-back First Half titles and three consecutive half-season titles. He also joined Dave LaPoint as the only mangers to earn playoff appearances in each of their first two seasons managing the Flock. However, the second half was a bit of a struggle for Baez’s team, and Long Island went into the playoffs as an underdog unlike the 2011 campaign. However, the team rallied behind their skipper and won a thrilling five-game series over Southern Maryland before heading to the Atlantic League Championship Series. There stood the mighty Lancaster Barnstormers, who had just set the league record for wins in a season with 88. That didn’t matter though, as the Ducks rallied from 1-0 and 2-1 series deficits to win in five games and earn the team’s first title in eight years. Doing it on their home field at Bethpage Ballpark in waddle-off fashion made the victory that much sweeter.
If the 2012 season was highlighted by an underdog toppling a huge favorite, 2013 would be no different for Baez and Long Island. In his third season as manager, the Brooklyn native once again had to deal with some bumps in the road. The Ducks did not win the First Half title this time and fought hard in the Second Half to keep their grasp on first place and win the Liberty Division. Back in the postseason for a third consecutive season, Baez’s team once again came together at the right time and found the success they had been looking for all year. The Ducks won their first five playoff games in 2013, including a three-game sweep of the Blue Crabs in the Liberty Division Championship Series. Despite a couple of walk-off losses to Somerset in Games Three and Four of the ALCS that could have easily destroyed the team’s hopes of back-to-back titles, John Brownell, Ray Navarrete and a cast of heroes lifted the Ducks in Game Five to win the series three games to two once again. Baez had now been to three consecutive Championship Series as well, doing something only one other manager in Atlantic League history had done before (Sparky Lyle, Somerset, ’99-’01; ’07-’09).
So, which of these memories was your favorite of Baez during his career thus far with the Ducks? Are there any other memories that stick out in your mind of Long Island’s skipper? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section on this story and be sure to vote in the Fowl Poll at the bottom of the page. Also, feel free to leave your birthday wishes for Kevin, and we will be sure to pass those along!