BRISTOL - Bristol Blues fans on Thursday and Sunday at Muzzy Field brought with them a playoff-type atmosphere to the final two regular season home games.
On Tuesday night, though, it was time for the real deal, as the Blues (31-23) kicked off a best-of-three series against the North Shore Navigators (31-25) in the FCBL playoffs. Game two will follow at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Lynn, Mass., while the Blues would come back home Thursday for game three, if necessary.
“The boys were pretty excited about that [atmosphere], as well as myself, the coaching staff and the rest of the organization,” Bristol Blues manager Ronnie Palmer said. “We’ve played better at Muzzy here later in the summer, and the fans were awesome the other night. We hope to have that crowd here again.”
The Blues put themselves in a good position with a first-round bye and home field advantage in the series by going 12-5 after the mid-July All-Star break, including a 9-2 mark at home, winning seven of their last 10, with three straight victories to close the season.
That includes a 10-3 win over the Navigators on Sunday to secure the postseason’s No. 2 seed and avoid Monday’s one-game opening round, but don’t expect that victory to mean anything now that the playoffs have begun.
“I think once you get to playoff baseball, everybody’s putting their best foot forward, so we’re gonna see the best North Shore team we’ve seen all summer,” Palmer said. “Their organization has put together a quality team this summer, and it’s shown.”
Palmer went on to praise Mike Odenwaelder, who this week was named the league’s Manager of the Year, and also discussed the Navigators’ 8-7 victory over the No. 6 seed Nashua Silver Knights at home on Monday.
That game featured a momentous three-run homer by Logan Bravo, which gave the Navs an 8-6 lead in the seventh inning.
Palmer’s pitchers and defense will have to contend with Bravo and three players who finished in the top seven in the league in hitting - Ben Malgeri (seventh-best .333 average, four HR, 27 RBI), Kade Kretzschmar (third-best at .348, four HR, 23 RBI) and league MVP Sean Lawlor, who finished second in average (.351), doubles (15), home runs (eight), RBI (40) and runs scored (44) and first in hits (66).
“Offense, obviously, always gives you opportunities to put runs on the board, but it always comes back to pitching and defense. Throwing strikes and making plays,” Palmer said. “Regardless of what level of baseball you watch or participate in, that’s where it starts.”
Mark Faello, the team’s best and most consistent pitcher all summer, started in game one Tuesday night, and Palmer on Tuesday afternoon said the team’s plan is to pitch left-hander Matt Shane in game two and righty Shane Bogli in game three.
Shane came to the team on June 12 as a relief pitcher, but moved into the starting rotation out of necessity and has proven to be dependable. He went 3-1 with a 4.70 ERA with 35 strikeouts and 15 walks in six starts and 11 appearances (36⅓ innings).
Bogli was just signed to the team July 26, but he has been just as reliable in his short time, going 2-0 with a 3.37 ERA in his two starts. He is coming off a start last Thursday in which he allowed one earned run in 6⅔ innings.
“I think the key with our pitching staff is throw strikes, work down in the zone and give us opportunities to make plays for them defensively,” Palmer said. “Matt Shane and Shane Bogli have both pitched well for us late in the summer, and we hope that trend continues if they get the baseball again.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org