Steven Matz was not quite as good as he was in the Gnats’ series clinching win over Augusta, but he was plenty tough enough Friday as the Gnats beat the Suns 2-0 to take the SAL Championship Series 3-1 for their first title in 17 years.
Gnats pitching did not allow a run in the final 19 innings of the championship series or in 27 innings at home in the playoffs. The Gnats allowed just two runs in the final 27 innings of the championship series, which turned into three wins.
Matz: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K – 98 pitches. The game turned on two bases-loaded sequences.
First, in the third inning the Suns had their chance. Hagerstown’s 9,1 and 2 hitters loaded the bases with a clean single to left, an infield roller on the right side and a bunt basehit down the third baseline. However, Matz wriggled free by striking out the #3 and 4 hitters, Shawn Pleffner and Wander Ramos, and breaking #5 hitter Mike McQuillan’s bat to induce a soft flare to shortstop to keep the game scoreless.
The Gnats took advantage of their basesloaded opportunity in the bottom of the fourth. Brandon Nimmo, Dilson Herrera and Cole Frenzel each walked and then Stefan Sabol banged a double down the leftfield line to score Nimmo and Herrera with the game’s only runs.
Working with a relatively tight zone by SAL standards, Matz survived with his fastball and changeup, but mostly his heat on Friday night. He threw a few curves that looked like strikes that were not called strikes despite appearing to be right over the heart of the plate. He threw his gas to both sides of the plate and elevated for strike three a few times and painted the inside and outside corners for third strikes as well.
Matz’s two playoff starts: 12.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 17 K. That’ll play.
Paul Sewald finished the sixth and handled the seventh.
Working his second night in a row, Jeurys Familia shut down the Suns 1-2-3 in the eighth inning with a pair of strikeouts. Monday, his fastball command was shaky. Thursday, it was better. Friday, he was throwing good sliders as well. Against poor Pleffner, Familia started him slider, slider for 0-2 and then finished him off with a fastball in on his hands for swinging strike three. Pleffner had no chance.
Beck Wheeler, who had a big year as the Gnats’ closer, gave up a one out double to bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but used his curve and forkball to baffle the next two batters to seal the championship.
The photo at right is Philip Evans kissing the SAL trophy from his instagram feed.