You know how sometimes you can tell a ball that's just been hit is a no-doubt home run right off the bat? You know, that certain sound of the ball hitting the bat right on the sweet spot?
That was the familiar sound that echoed across Canal Park in the fourth Thursday, when Aeros catcher and Eastern League MVP Carlos Santana jumped on the first offering of the inning by Reading starter Yohan Flande, sending the ball deep to left field and into the canal that runs beyond the outfield wall.
"As soon as Carlos hit it, everyone in the park knew it was gone," Aeros manager Mike Sarbaugh said.
Santana's 24th longball of the season sparked a three-run inning in the second game of the E.L. Southern Division Series Thursday, leading to a 6-2 Aeros victory over the visiting Phillies.
The win gave the host a commanding two-game lead in the best-of-five series that shifts to Reading for games three (and four, if necessary) Friday and Saturday. If a deciding game five is needed, the series would head back to Akron Sunday for a 7:05 p.m. game.
"Anytime when you start a series with home field advantage and you get those first two games, that's best-case scenario," Sarbaugh said. "But they're a good club and we know this series isn't over until our next win."
Akron's Beau Mills followed Santana's big blow with a walk, Matt McBride then smacked a ground-rule double up the right field line that Reading's Domonic Brown over ran and Lonnie Chisenhall walked to loaded the bases.
Carlos Rivero then drove in a run with a fielder's choice and Jerad Head continued his clutch hitting with the first of his two run-scoring doubles of the evening.
"Right now, everybody in our lineup one through nine is swinging the bat well," Head said. "I'm feeling good right now, but honestly am not exactly where I want to be in some of my at bats."
That's a scary thought considering the Aeros put up another three-run inning in the sixth against the Reading bullpen. Chisenhall and Rivero opened the frame with back-to-back singles and John Drennen sacrificed the pair over with a bunt.
That set the table for another big Head hit, as he doubled home the pair to push his team-leading RBI total to seven in the Aeros first two playoff games.
"He's invaluable to our team," Sarbaugh said of Head. "He can play a couple different positions, he can run and he's really swung the bat well this year. He's been a really big part of our team's success this year - not only now, but early on when he carried us in April."
While the Aeros offense coasted to a 6-0 lead, starting pitcher Jeanmar Gomez also cruised early. The E.L. Pitcher of the Year did not allow a Reading batter to reach second base until the sixth inning. But with runners on the corners and one out, he coaxed Kevin Mahar into an inning-ending double play to end the threat.
"He made his pitch and got the ground ball so he was feeling good about himself," Sarbaugh said of Gomez, who limited the Phillies to one run while scattering six hits over six-plus innings. "That's why we sent him back out in the seventh."
Carlton Smith, a starter-turned-reliever this season, relieved Gomez with two on and no outs in the seventh. In two innings he held Reading to just one more run before turning the game over to Neil Wagner, who sat the Phillies down in order in the ninth to end the game.
Before all the scoring began, the teams swapped a pair of highlight-reel catches that brought defense to the forefront early. Drennen, the Aeros right fielder, robbed Phillies' second-inning leadoff man Neil Sellers of a single to right field with a running, sliding catch.
In the bottom of the inning, Reading right fielder Brown returned the favor with an even tougher catch - an arms-extended diving play in which he had to run quite a ways for in shallow right, taking away a Drennen RBI-single.
MIRROR IMAGE: Just like the Southern Division Series that saw the Aeros take a commanding 2-0 lead at home over Reading (Philadelphia Phillies), the Northern Division Series is also following suit.
Host Connecticut (San Francisco Giants) topped visiting New Britain (Minnesota Twins) 10-7 Thursday to take a 2-0 lead in that series as it shifts some 50 miles across the state to New Britain.
STREAK HALTED: For the first time in four games, Aeros right fielder John Drennen did not a home run Thursday. After racking up five homers in the Aeros last four contests, Drennen went 0-for-3 in Game Two of the playoffs. However, he did have a key sacrifice bunt in the the Aeros three-run sixth inning.
UP NEXT: Akron and Reading players and coaches hurried to get dressed and gather their equipment after Thursday night's game, as everyone scurried out to their respective busses for the seven-hour drive to Reading, Pa.
Aeros left-hander Eric Berger (3-1, 2.67 ERA) and Phillies right-hander Mike Cisco (2-4, 4.58 ERA) are the scheduled starting pitchers for Friday's game.
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