Ah, minor league baseball in Brooklyn, where the faces may change but the end-result, it seems, remains the same.
The Brooklyn Cyclones kicked off their 2002 season Tuesday night with an 8-5 win over their cross-Narrows punching bag, the Staten Island Yankees, earning former New York Mets star Howard Johnson his first victory as a manager, while continuing their dominance over the team they unseated as New York-Penn League champions last season.
The next night, in their home opener, the Cyclones defeated the Yanks again, this time 6-4.
The Cyclones went 6-2 against the Baby Bombers during last year’s regular season before taking their best-of-three first-round New York-Penn playoff series — beginning a rivalry that had the bigwigs in the Bronx and Queens sending down players from higher levels in hopes of earning New York City’s minor league bragging rights.
“With the Yankees and us bringing guys down for the playoff, it was like a little war,” Johnson said. “And I guess they we’re a little po’d at us after winning the games last year.”
Still, Johnson, who served last year as the Cyclones hitting coach, pointed out that this year’s crop of players — which includes just nine players from last year’s squad — don’t quite understand the rivalry yet.
“Some of them get it, but some of them didn’t,” he said. “Then, they show up here, with the big crowd, and they suddenly feel the pressure of the game.”
Pressure that the Cyclones seemed to deal with quite well.
Behind the two-hit pitching of Florida-native Kevin Deaton (5 IP, 0 ER), the ’Clones jumped out to a 4-0 lead by the end of the third inning.
In the second, designated hitter Brett Harper and right fielder Noel Devarez led the inning off with back-to-back singles.
After Edgar Rodriguez flew out to second, catcher Abraham Ayala singled to drive in Brooklyn’s first run of the season.
An inning later, the Cyclones picked up three two-out RBIs, thanks to a run-scoring single by Harper and a screaming two-run homer from Devarez, one of the holdovers from last year’s squad.
After Deaton was replaced with East Amherst’s Dave Lohrman, the Yankees broke out their bats, picking up two unearned runs in the sixth thanks to a throwing error by Lohrman, and following that with three runs in the seventh on a two-out, bases-loaded triple by the Yanks cleanup hitter, John Ramistella.
Still, that left the score tied at 5-5, as the Clones had picked up an unearned run earlier in the frame when Corey Ragsdale walked and later scored on a passed ball.
The score remained knotted until the ninth, when Ender Chavez and Ragsdale worked back-to-back walks with one out.
Up stepped center fielder Alhaji Turay, a 21-year-old out of Auburn, Wash., who was left stranded at third after rocketing a double to the 390-foot mark in dead center field in the first inning.
That shot turned out to be a preview of things to come, as he sent another rocket to the gap in right-center, plating both runners and leaving Turay at third. He later scored on Harper’s two-out single, putting the Clones up by three.
That was enough for Rylie Ogle, the southpaw from California who, after giving up back-to-back singles to start the ninth, settled down to strike out Jared Koutnik and Eric Verbryke before inducing Ramistella to pop up to short to end the game.
“It worked out just the way we wanted it,” a beaming Johnson said after the game. “The guys at the top of the order got on base, and the guys in the middle drove them in. They had some good at bats there, and everything worked out.”
In the home opener on Wednesday, a sellout crowd of 8,083 watched the Yankees manage only 2 hits off starter and winner Yunior Cabrera.
The Cyclones struck early in the bottom of the first, scoring two runs on third baseman Brett Harper’s single before tacking on a third run on Bobby Malek’s base-knock.
After a solo home run by the Yanks Omir Santos in the top of the seventh, the Clones scored yet another three in the bottom of the fourth, thanks to cather Abraham Ayala’s double and a pair of Yankee errors later in the inning.
Sloppy fielding and walks threatened to make the game close, by Cyclones releiver Omar Anez closed the door on the Yankees in the eight and ninth, enducing two inning-ending double plays.
June 24, 2002 issue