Suns lose two, but get a spot in playoffs
PITTSFIELD -- In baseball, outcomes are usually decided on the diamond. Friday night, the Pittsfield Suns found out their postseason fate on a smartphone.
All Pittsfield needed was to win one of two games against the North Shore Navigators. After dropping a doubleheader to North Shore before 4,316 fans at home, the Suns needed Wachusett to split a twinbill with Martha’s Vineyard to make the Futures League playoffs.
Luke Bonfield’s solo home run in the eighth inning helped the Sharks beat the Dirt Dawgs and that propelled the Suns into the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
"That was ridiculous. That was nerve-wracking," said Dan Palazzo. "We didn’t play well today, but we’ll take it."
That was an understatement. The Suns dropped the opener of the doubleheader 3-1 as Kyle Gauthier and Rob DiFranco combined to pitch a six-hitter. Then the Suns stranded 10 in the nightcap, leaving the bases loaded twice, in a 6-1 loss. The Suns finish with a 26-27 record, but finished 11Ž2 games ahead of the Dirt Dawgs for the final playoff position.
The Suns will make a trip to southeastern Massachusetts to play the Brockton Rox tonight at 7. The Rox finished second in the East Division and earned the No. 3 seed.
Nashua and Torrington will play in the other one-game wild card playoff contest. Division champions Worcester and Martha’s Vineyard await on Sunday.
"It’s a great group of guys here. You never know what can happen. You catch fire going into the playoffs, just like March Madness," shortstop Dan Donahue said, "and ride it right out to the end."
In two games, the Suns left 16 runners on base and left 10 on in scoring position. It was the same affliction that hurt the Suns during their late-season, seven-game losing streak.
"It was kind of right back to that losing streak," said Suns manager Tom Conley. "It’s a clean slate [tonight]. We have to look at it that way."
Of the two games, the second one had to be the more frustrating one. After losing the opener, the Suns surrendered four runs in the top of the first inning. The key hit was a two-run double by Sean O’Neill.
Gary Tesch led off the home first with a walk and took third on Tyler Bell’s double to left-center. Palazzo grounded out and Jeff McGarry looked at strike three before Steve Dill walked to load the bases. Derek Gardella grounded to third to end the threat.
The Suns had runners on second and third with one out in the third and loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth but came up empty.
"Dan Donahue got a big hit [in the fifth] for us, but that was about it for us," said Palazzo. "We left guys in scoring position."
Donahue’s RBI double in the fifth left runners on second and third with two outs, but Mike Valentin Jr. flied out to end the threat.
In the first game, the Navigators got to starter Perry Kulaga for three unearned runs in the fourth inning. A two-out error by second baseman Tad Martin led to consecutive RBI singles by O’Neill, Kyle Devlin and Derek Bauer. Donahue’s infield single drove in Pittsfield’s run in the home fifth. But DeFranco pitched a perfect seventh to collect the save.
"We played  games and everyone’s still going," said Palazzo. "It’s a new season. Everyone’s 0-0."
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