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GCL Red Sox Capture Second Consecutive Championship

GCLRed Sox 2015

Photo Courtesy of Gulf Coast League

But it’s been no bed of roses
No pleasure cruise
I consider it a challenge before
The whole human race
And I ain’t gonna lose- Freddie Mercury

The GCL Red Sox, Boston’s entry in Florida’s rookie level Gulf Coast League won  their second straight (and third overall) championship with a series sweep over the GCL Blue Jays this week.

The Red Sox led the GCL’s South division wire to wire after a 10-0 start, which tied the club’s all time best winning streak to open a season, finishing  with a 41-17 record. The well balanced team was as effective on the road as at home, with an away mark of 20-9 to go along with their 21-8 record at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers.

Manager Tom Kotchman’s squad led the league in pitching with a 2.28 ERA, and the staff combined to amass 12 shutouts, which led the league.

A pair of 17 year old righthanded pitchers who began the 2015 season with Boston’s Dominican Summer League team put up some very impressive numbers in the regular season and continued with post season heroics.

Anderson Espinoza, a native of Caracas, Venezuela finished the regular season with an 0.68 ERA in 10 games over 40 innings. Espinoza was limited to 4 innings per game and struck out 40 while allowing only 9 walks. Roniel Raudes from Granada, Nicaragua was 3-0 in 4 starts with a 0.90 ERA, striking out 16 in 20 innings.

Elsewhere on the pitching staff, lefthanders Logan Allen (0.90 in 7 starts) and Enmanuel De Jesus (6-2, 1.66 ERA in 10 games including 4 starts) and righty Yankory Pimentel (4-0, 1.60 in 16 games with 6 saves) also carried their regular season success into the GCL playoffs.

After it was determined that the GCL Red Sox had the league’s best record overall, they were set to host a one game playoff against the east division champs, the GCL Cardinals, managed by longtime Cardinal player, scout and coach Steve Turco. The winner would then play the victor in a game between the northwest division leaders, the Blue Jays and the champs from the northeast division, the GCL Tigers.

Curiously, the Gulf Coast League has both a northeast and northwest division, and an east and south, but not a west or north. Like most oddities involved with the league (mostly attributed to the youth and inexperience of the players…questionable baserunning and 1005 wild pitches league wide in 473 total games along with 104 balks for good measure), I just chalk it up to “well, it’s the GCL”.

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Mgr Tom Kotchman (Photo by Barbara Boxleitner)

The Cardinals featured both the league’s leading hitter, shortstop Allen Cordoba (.342 in 53 games) and leading pitcher, lefty David Oca (7-1 with a 1.70 ERA in 63 2/3 innings). Outfielder Nick Plummer led the GCL with 43 runs scored.

Oca was on the mound at jetBlue Park Sunday as the playoffs began. Early in the game, it was announced that in the other one game playoff, the Blue Jays jumped all over the Tigers for 4 quick runs and they cruised to a win, setting up one half of the opponents for the league championship.

Espinoza, Oca’s opponent on the mound, retired the first 6 Cardinals in order on five ground balls and one long flyout. Meanwhile, Oca retired 6 of the first 7 Red Sox he faced.

The Cardinals scored first, with an unearned run in the third inning. The Red Sox came back with two unearned runs of their own in the bottom of the frame. One of the runs was driven in by second baseman Rafael Oliveras, who batted .248 during the regular season and also pitched twice in relief in emergency situations, picking up a big save in a game against the Twins. Oliveras was later called “team MVP” by Kotchman, his manager.

The GCL Sox tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the 4th, on a two run single by catcher Devon Fisher, a 2014 June draft pick who was later injured sliding in to second base on an inning ending double play.

Espinoza attemped to pitch beyond the 4th inning for the first time since he arrived stateside. Back to back walks and an error loaded the bases. De Jesus entered the game with two outs and pitched out of the jam, shutting out the Cardinals the rest of the way to pick up a 4-1 victory. De Jesus struck out 4 in 4 1/3 innings.

Monday the Blue Jays and Red Sox braved the remnants of a tropical storm. The rain held off and the Sox’ Logan Allen faced Jays starter Denis Diaz.

Allen, a graduate of IMG Academy, quickly set down the Blue Jays in the top of the first with two strikeouts.

In the bottom of the first, Red Sox infielder Andy Perez, serving as the team’s DH led off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch, to third on an infield out and scored on a sacrifice fly by first baseman Jerry Downs.

Perez, an undrafted player out of Duke University who was signed this summer reached base three times in the game with another single and a walk. Perez batted .355 in 26 games with 18 RBI during the regular season.

The Blue Jays scored two runs in the 4th to take the lead. Red Sox pitcher Travis Lakins made his professional debut in the 5th inning, pitching a scoreless frame which will not show up in his statistics.

Yankory Pimnetel, one of the GCL Sox closers during 2015 held the Blue Jays at bay, pitching three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out three. Pimentel retired the first seven batters he faced.

Righthanded Sox hurler Algenis Martinez pitched a scoreless 9th and with the score 2-1 Jays, Perez led off the bottom of the inning with a line drive single to centerfield. Oliveras grounded out to advance Perez to second. Downs then followed with a single to center which skipped past Reggie Pruitt, the Blue Jays centerfielder who appeared to be bracing for a possible throw home for a play at the plate.

The Sox scored a run on the play and put Downs on second, Versatile Roldani Baldwin singled in the game winner to capture a walk off victory in game one of the championship series.

Baldwin, a catcher by trade converted this season to third base and batted .288 (good for 10th in the league in hitting) with 3 home runs and 25 RBI.

Rain on Tuesday postponed game two which was scheduled to be played at the Blue Jays minor league training facility in Dunedin. As a result, per league rules (again, the quirky GCL) game two would be played as part of a doubleheader back in Fort Myers at jetBlue Park the following day. If the Red Sox were victorious in the first of two 7 inning games, they would be crowned champs. If the Jays won, a second 7 inning game would be played thirty minutes later to determine the league champions. However, if the doubleheader had been rained out, the series would have shifted back to Dunedin.

Both Toronto and Boston’s player development officials were consulted and the teams agreed to play two seven inning games if necessary, rather than a 9 inning contest followed by a 7 inning game.

The Blue Jays were home team in the first game (which was actually championship game 2, very confusing). The Jays started righthander Osman Gutierrez, who was 4-3 with a 4.76 ERA during the regular season against Sox starter Raudes, the other 17 year old Boston phenom.

Andy Perez, again DHing, led off the top of the first with a single. On a hit and run, Oliveras singled to left, putting runners on first and third. Downs grounded out to score Perez, and the Red Sox were on the board with what turned out to be the only run of the game.

Raudes pitched five innings, picking up the win, scattering five hits and striking out five. Nick Duron and Adam Lau each pitched an inning in relief, Lau picking up the save striking out two including Pruitt to end the game.

Blue Jays starter Gutierrez was the hard luck loser, pitching six innings, striking out five and walking none. After Perez and Oliveras’ back to back singles to open the game, Gutierrez retired 16 of the next 17 hitters, only allowing one baserunner, Tyler Hill to reach via a hit batsman.

The GCL championship was the second straight for the Red Sox, after previously having won in 2006 with a victory over 18 year old Clayton Kershaw‘s GCL Dodgers at Boston’s former training site, the old player development complex across town used when the Red Sox called City of Palms Stadium home.

The Sox defeated Yankees 1 (one of two Yankees GCL teams) last year in the first of these two back to back titles.. Since moving to jetBlue Park and the surrounding Fenway South Complex in 2012, the GCL Sox have been in the league championship every year. The Red Sox were defeated by the Pirates in their inaugural season at jetBlue, and lost to the GCL Nationals the following season.

The GCL Red Sox will attempt a three-peat (thanks Pat Riley) when the 2016 Gulf Coast League season begins next June.

Photo of the Day

Jane the dek

Jane Simmons (Red Sox Spring Training Season Ticket Manager) celebrating with me after the game.

Brian is a Boston native and art school student who took a summer job with a baseball team and never left. He has been employed by the Boston Red Sox in one capacity or another since 1982. He also follows and blogs college basketball. Follow him on Twitter @BostonBrian2015

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