Reading pulled a page out of the Aeros postseason handbook as the Eastern League Southern Division Playoff Series began Wednesday evening at Canal Park.
Joining the Phillies as a reinforcement from Triple-A was outfielder Michael Taylor - the E.L.'s Rookie of the Year who batted .333 with the Phillies, but has spent the last two months with LeHigh Valley.
Wednesday, Taylor didn't provide the kind of offensive spark that Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner did in conveniently rehabbing with the Aeros in last year's division-series win over Bowie.
Taylor, who entered the season as Philadelphia's sixth-best prospect according to Baseball America, went 0-for-4 in his first live action since Aug. 15 after being sidelined with a right oblique injury.
But when a squad cruises to 89 regular-season wins like the Aeros did - including entering the postseason with two consecutive series sweeps and riding an eight-game winning streak - this appears to be a year the Aeros don't need outside help.
Wednesday's 9-4 victory showed just that.
"I knew they were bringing (Taylor) back and I knew he'd been hot all season," Aeros starting pitcher Josh Tomlin said. "But I was just going with my game plan and facing him with the pitches I have and just see if he was rusty or not."
With one out in the second inning, the Phillies strung together three consecutive singles by Neil Sellers, Domonic Brown and Kevin Nelson to take an early 2-0 lead against Tomlin. But only one run was earned as Brown scored on a throwing error to first base by Aeros shortstop Carlos Rivero.
The Aeros cut the deficit in half in the third inning when Josh Rodriguez's two-out double scored Jose Constanza. Then they used some more two-out momentum in a three-run fourth against Reading starter and losing pitcher Mike Stutes.
Beau Mills started the big inning with a single to right and Matt McBride reached safely on an error on Reading third baseman Sellers. Lonnie Chisnehall and Rivero followed with hard outs to left fielder Taylor before John Drennen beat out an infield single to load the bases.
Akron's Jerad Head then provided a bases-clearing three-run double off the bottom of the wall in the gap in right center field, giving the Aeros a 4-2 lead.
"Head's hit was huge there," Aeros manager Mike Sarbaugh said. "Our bottom of the order really came through for us."
But it was Drennen who provided the big blow that knocked Stutes from the game. Drennen tied a franchise record with his fourth consecutive game with a home run (he now has five home runs in four games), as Wednesday's two-run monster shot sailed some 400 feet to deep center field and off the batter's eye to push the Aeros advantage to 6-2.
Meanwhile, Tomlin cruised through his start, with the second inning being nothing more than a mere hiccup.
Starting with the third out of the second inning, Tomlin retired the next 17 consecutive batters he faced, striking out eight along the way to earn his team-leading 15th win.
"I was throwing strikes, and that's key for me," Tomlin said. "Strike one and strike two, that puts hitters off balance and forces them to take defensive swings."
In a rarity, reliever Steven Wright (who went 10-0 with a 2.32 ERA in 36 appearances in the regular season) struggled late in the game in relief of Tomlin, spotting the Phillies a pair of runs as they pulled within two.
But Aeros closer Josh Judy came on to face the dangerous Taylor. And with one pitch, he promptly quelled the threat as Taylor flew out to centerfield to end the inning.
By the time Judy came back out in the ninth inning and earned the save, the explosive Aeros offense had given him three more insurance runs to work with - including a sacrifice fly by Head that gave him a game-high four RBI.
IT'S THE SHOES: Aeros long time bat boy Brian Souers, better known around Canal Park as "Batman" was preoccupied before the start of Wednesday's game, but not so much with the typical bat boy duties of filling water coolers and taking gum and sunflower seeds out to the bullpen.
Nope, Souers was dead set on wearing purple shoes to match the Aeros home purple jerseys. So he enlisted the help of clubhouse manager Shad Gross, who complied by spray painting his Nike cleats a light shade of purple.
Of course the Aeros ended up wearing their alternate camouflage jerseys - chosen by starting pitcher Josh Tomlin - making Souers' fashion statement even more...umm, interesting.
FALL LEAGUE REUNION: Eight current Aeros will make up the Indians minor league contingent in the upcoming Arizona Fall League. Headed west are right-handed starting pitcher Connor Graham, right-handed closer Josh Judy, right-handed reliever Zach Putnam, second baseman Josh Rodriguez, right-handed reliever Carlton Smith, outfielder Matt McBride (interestingly listed as a catcher), shortstop Carlos Rivero and left fielder Nick Weglarz.
UP NEXT: The Aeros host Reading (Philadelphia Phillies) again Thursday at Canal Park at 7:05 p.m. Akron right-hander and E.L. Pitcher of the Year Jeanmar Gomez (10-4, 3.43 ERA) and Reading left-hander Yohan Flande (4-4, 4.58 ERA) are the scheduled pitchers.
As always, Thursday's "Thirsty Thursday" promotion is $1 drinks from 6:05 p.m. through the first three innings. Fans will also be treated to post game fireworks.
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