It was as atypical a night as there had probably been all season at Hodgetown on Tuesday, at least in terms of conditions and action.
Which only made it all the more appropriate and rewarding that it was a night when the Amarillo Sod Poodles clinched a playoff berth.
On an evening which was better suited weather-wise for November football than late summer baseball, the Sod Poodles and Frisco RoughRiders opened the final regular season series by matching zeros most of the game, with the teams managing runs in only two half-innings. But the Sod Poodles made that one half-inning stand up on the mound, edging Frisco 2-1 to clinch the Texas League South Division second half championship.
The win gave the Soddies (40-24 in the TL second half) a berth in the playoffs, starting next week with the first game of a best-of-three series against TL South first half champions the San Antonio Missions next Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. at Hodgetown. Game two, and three, if necessary, will be played in San Antonio.
Amarillo has the best overall record (74-59) and second half record in the Texas League. The Sod Poodles look to be a decent bet to win their second league championship in their four seasons in the Texas League.
“I’ve known the guys in this clubhouse awhile, some not that long, but no matter what it’s a journey that’s pretty cool,” Sod Poodles centerfielder A.J. Vukovich said. “Guys come in and out and for the guys who’ve been here all year it’s really special. It was a goal for us and it was really neat that it all led up to clinching here.”
Vukovich, who was named the Texas League Player of the Week last week and set the Sod Poodles franchise record for single season RBIs with 95 and counting, was one of only eight players in the two lineups to record a base hit Tuesday night. Sod Poodles starter Dylan Ray and Frisco starter Noah Bremer were stingy in the early going.
Ray gave up a single and a walk back-to-back with one out in the first and a back-to-back walk and single with two outs in the fifth. In between, Ray retired 13 straight hitters and ended up stranding all four baserunners he allowed in throwing five shutout innings.
“As a starter your job is to give your team a chance to win an pitch as deep into the game as you can,” Ray said. “My only goal is to win the game. However it happens, it happens. Just try to get ahead in the count and finish guys off with two strikes. I got in trouble with a few guys but I’m just happy I won the game and got to celebrate with the guys.”
It was the first Double-A win for Ray, who entered the game with an 0-2 mark and 13.00 ERA. Ray has been with the team just over two weeks.
“It’s unbelievable,” Ray said. “I haven’t been with the club very long but I can see this group is close and I’m just happy to hop on for the ride.”
Still, Ray was hardly guaranteed a win after pitching five shutout innings. That possibility didn’t exist until the bottom of the fifth when the Sod Poodles finally got to Bremer.
Deyvison De Los Santos led off the inning with a single and with one out scored on a double to right-center by Kristian Robinson, who was making his Double-A debut. J.J. D’Orazio then singled up the middle to drive home Robinson and make it 2-0.
That was all the Sod Poodles got, but it was all they needed. Will Mabrey, Michel Otanez and Raffi Vizcaino all provided stellar relief.
The only hiccup came with two outs in the eighth when Vizcaino gave up a solo home run to Wyatt Langford and walked Liam Hicks to put the tying run on base. But Vizcaino got Kellen Strahm to fly out to center and struck out the side in the ninth to earn the save.