Trevor Clifton displayed why he is the 2016 Carolina League Pitcher of the Year in what will likely be his final start at the Class A-Advanced level of baseball, and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans are within a game of winning their second consecutive league title.
The Pelicans’ righthanded starter allowed just three hits in six shutout innings and Myrtle Beach recorded double-digit hits for the second consecutive game in a 7-0 win Tuesday at Calvin Falwell Field at Lynchburg City Stadium.
The Pelicans lead the best-of-five Mills Cup Championship Series two games to one and can clinch the title Wednesday night in Lynchburg.
“There was a lot of excitement going into this series, especially with the off-day [Monday] in between games to kind of think about the championship and what could possibly happen,” said Pelicans leadoff hitter Charcer Burks, who scored three runs Tuesday. “You get very excited and anxious almost. Once the game started . . . everything just kind of calmed down and we’re just focused on winning again.”
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In his 10th consecutive quality start, Clifton allowed just one runner to reach scoring position, struck out five without allowing a walk and retired the final nine batters he faced.
“I had a lot to live up to after getting all of those awards,” said Clifton, who posted a league-low 2.87 earned-run average and was also the Chicago Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month in both May and August. “I kind of just took it and ran with it. I’ve been pitching well and really at the playoff point it’s all about the team and stats don’t matter, so anything to make us win I tried.
“They’ve seen a lot of fastballs out of me and I threw more offspeed tonight than I usually do against this team and kept them off-balance. … I threw a lot of changeups today then busted back in with the fastball and they couldn’t handle it.”
He got plenty of help Tuesday from both the Pelicans offense and bullpen.
Myrtle Beach got 10 hits, including two each from Burks, Donnie Dewees and David Bote at the top of the lineup and Jeffrey Baez in the six hole.
The bullpen was again dominant, as big righthander Tommy Nance allowed two hits in two innings and recorded five of his six outs via strikeouts, and Scott Effross allowed just a walk in the ninth.
“Tonight I felt pretty locked in, starting from the bullpen,” Nance said. “I was hitting my spots. Like the last part of the season and the playoffs I’ve been working on narrowing my focus and having a plan. I felt like I went out there and did that tonight and all my pitches felt great.”
The Myrtle Beach bullpen has allowed just two earned runs in 25.1 innings in the playoffs for a 0.71 ERA.
“Their whole pitching staff was good tonight,” Lynchburg coach Mark Budzinski said. “They came after us, mixed pitches well, threw strikes and kept the ball down. That’s how it’s done right there.”
Myrtle Beach got a run after just three batters as Burks doubled off the right field wall and Bote hit a one-out RBI double to center field. The Pelicans added a run in the third on a one-out Bryant Flete triple in the right field corner and Burks sacrifice fly.
The Pelicans extended their lead to 5-0 with three runs in the sixth inning. Burks led off with a single and Dewees lined a single to center field. A one-out Eloy Jimenez groundout moved the runners into scoring position, and they both scored following a wild pitch when the throw from catcher Francisco Mejia to pitcher Jared Robinson attempting to get Burks at home was wide and allowed Dewees to score.
Ian Rice walked and scored the third run of the inning on a Baez double to the center field wall.
Myrtle Beach tacked on couple more runs in the seventh inning on a sacrifice fly by Dewees and another RBI double by Bote, who continued to swing a hot bat, going 2-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI in the game, though his productive night dropped his postseason batting average from .611 to .591.
Hopefully Burks and Dewees and those guys at the top keep getting on because Bote has been pretty consistent all year and when we have those guys on base that’s when we score.
Pelicans manager Buddy Bailey
After being limited to three runs or fewer in three consecutive games, the Pelicans have scored 15 runs in the past two games.
“Hitting is contagious and we all feed off each other, whether it’s good or bad and whether we know it or not,” Burks said. “… We just try to get on base and play for the guy behind you so he can have the opportunity to do something. Everybody’s just playing as a team right now and we’re all just trying to get something going and just feed off that and keep going.”
The Pelicans are starting Preston Morrison against Matt Esparza in Game 4. Both righthanders joined their teams late and had solid ERAs of 1.77 and 3.92 in a handful of starts late in the season, but both were hit hard in their playoff openers.
Myrtle Beach is the first team to reach three consecutive Mills Cup Championship Series since Frederick in 2007, and is trying to become the first back-to-back outright Carolina League champions since Winston-Salem in 1985-86.
“We’re a lot closer than we were back on April 8 but we still have one game, and when good teams – which they are – get their backs against the wall they usually come out fighting even harder,” Pelicans manager Buddy Bailey said. “So I’m sure they’re going to scratch and claw.”