2015 35+ American

2015 35+ American

Raleigh Red Sox 6, Atlanta Rangers 0

‘Gonzalez Throws Shutout to Seal Victory’

By Chris Errington, special to MSBL

November 7, 2015, Clearwater, FL – Defending champions seldom relinquish titles easily. With Johnny Gonzalez on the mound, they often don’t have a choice. A day after allowing just a pair of runs in a semifinal victory, Gonzalez was in a familiar position – pitching the Raleigh Red Sox to a Fall Classic championship.

Gonzalez was dominant throughout, allowing only four hits to earn his second title game victory in three years. “Being [in a championship game] before definitely helped,” Gonzalez said. “I just wanted to get ahead and keep [Atlanta] off balance. With our defense playing as well as it does, I knew I just had to throw strikes. I got a little tired in the ninth, but I’ve still got three or four more innings in me if we needed it.”

Gonzalez, a 6-foot-5, 170-pound (on a good day to his own admission) right-hander, joined battery mate Paul Regan to complete a dominating and nearly unthinkable two-day effort. After Raleigh finished round-robin play with a record of 2-3 following a pair of one-run losses – including a 3-2 setback against Atlanta – Regan, with Gonzalez catching, pitched 8.2 hitless innings in a 7-0 playoff victory over Venezuela, before settling for a one-hitter. Later that day, Gonzalez, with Regan catching, was brilliant in a complete game, 10-2 semifinal victory over Puerto Rico.

Not surprisingly, the duo was back at it again in the final, proving the worth of manager Mike Wilson’s trust. “I had no reservations about starting [Gonzalez] again, because I’ve seen him do this before,” Wilson said. “When he goes out, we know how he’s going to be early. If he’s on, we just let him go.” The title was the third for Wilson, but first in the American division, a fact he said helps separate the victory from the previous two. “They’re all important and they’re all a bit different,” Wilson said. “To win one in a higher level of competition makes it more of an accomplishment for us.”

While leadoff man Robert Rudder led all players with three hits, it was the bottom of the order that got Raleigh the only run it would need. With two outs and the bases empty in the second, Chris Budnick laced a double down the third base line. One batter later, Adrian Matlock singled to center, giving the Red Sox a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The lead stretched to 2-0 in the third, when Rudder singled to right, stole second, advanced to third on a Korre Humes single and scored on a fielder’s choice.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez was nearly unhittable. Including a six-pitch first, the lanky righty didn’t allow a base runner until Cesar Ostos’ one-out single to left in the fourth. Ostos was stranded at first and Atlanta failed to get a runner to second base until Ivan Reid’s two-out double in the eighth. Over that span, Gonzalez retired 12 of 13 batters, facing the minimum when Reid, who had Atlanta’s second hit, was promptly thrown out trying to steal second in the fifth. Gonzalez’s performance, which clinched MVP honors following a 3-1 week, came against an Atlanta team that finished round-robin play 3-1-1 and, according to manager Tommy Linda, “had hit the ball well.”

“We just ran into a guy who didn’t make any mistakes all game,” Linda said. “The way we hit [in a 4-2 semifinal victory over New Era], I thought we’d hit a lot better. We’ve got a heavy lefty line-up, so I was glad when we had a righty on the mound. We just couldn’t string any hits together and that’s a credit to [Gonzalez].”

With a 2-0 lead seemingly safe, Raleigh put the game away late. Budnick drove in Jeromy Bullman with a bloop single to right, before pinch runner Damian McFadden scored on the Red Sox’s fourth hit of the inning, a single to left by James Harris. When Raleigh tacked on single runs in the eighth and ninth, the final coming when Humes’ booming double to right center plated Rudder, all that was left was for Gonzalez to escape his only jam of the game. Atlanta threatened with runners on second and third and one out, before the righty induced a shallow fly out and ground out to end the threat and claim the championship.

Raleigh                        0 1 1    0 0 0    2 1 1 – 6 14 0

Atlanta                         0 0 0    0 0 0    0 0 0 – 0  4  3

WP: Gonzalez (3-1); LP: Gil. Pitching: Gonzalez and Regan (R). Gil, Anderson (7), Mendez (7), Steinmetz (9) and George (A). 2B: Budnick, Humes (R) Steinmetz (A).