Aeros hold on for 7-6 win at Connecticut Wednesday; Take 2-0 lead in best-of-five championship series
One more win.
That's all the Aeros need to claim their third Eastern League Championship after taking a commanding two-games-to-none lead in the finals with a 7-6 victory over host Connecticut Wednesday at Dodd Stadium.
The best-of-five series now shifts to Akron's Canal Park for the weekend after a day off to travel Thursday.
Unlike the previous four playoff games in which the Aeros cruised to wins, the team's franchise-best 13th consecutive victory did not come easy.
After Josh Rodriguez's three-run home run had given the visitors a 7-4 lead in the ninth inning, closer Josh Judy tip-toed through a landmine of a bottom of the inning as the Defenders pulled within a run before Tyler LaTorre was called out on strikes to end the game.
"That ninth inning was certainly interesting," Aeros manager Mike Sarbaugh said. "Not exactly how you draw it up, but we had confidence in (Judy). Of course this time of year, it doesn't matter how you get a win - there's no style points."
Akron jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third inning, sparked by the first of two doubles on the night by hot-hitting Jerad Head.
Connecticut cut into the deficit in the bottom of the inning with a run on back-to-back doubles by Brock Bond and Mike McBryde. Then in the fourth, the Defenders loaded the bases with one out against Aeros starting pitcher Jeanmar Gomez.
While Gomez rebounded to strike out the side to quell the threat, he couldn't continue the Houdini act in the fifth when Brett Pill's solo home run pulled the Defenders within a run, 3-2.
Despite struggling with his command, Gomez limited Connecticut to two runs over five innings before turning the game over to the bullpen. Reliever Carlton Smith breezed through through the sixth inning, and the Aeros offense added an insurance run in the seventh.
But Smith and home plate umpire Shaun Francis did not see eye-to-eye on anything in the bottom of the inning. After a single by McBryde and two walks, the bases were loaded with no outs. When a few more questionable calls led to Smith walking in a run, he was lifted for Zach Putnam.
Putnam did a good job of limiting the damage, getting Eddy Martinez-Esteve to ground into a run-scoring double play and then striking out LaTorre looking. But the damage was done. The Defenders had pulled even, 4-4.
In the ninth, Rodriguez's home run in the top of the ninth gave the Aeros a temporary 7-4 lead. But the Defenders mounted one final rally against Aeros closer Josh Judy, scoring a pair of runs on a McBryde triple and Rodriguez error before LaTorre was again called out looking to end the game.
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