After a grim start to the 2013 season, one which saw them open with five straight losses on their home field, the Aberdeen men have turned things around as of late, with the IronBirds vaulting into the top spot of the New York-Penn League's McNamara Division with a pair of victories on Tuesday and Wednesday.
With their most recent win, a 2-1 defeat of the visiting State College Spikes on Wednesday night, the IronBirds (13-10) took a half-game lead over second-place Hudson Valley, which was dealt its third straight loss the same evening. Third-place Staten Island was well within striking distance, trailing Aberdeen by one game, while Brooklyn sat at the bottom of the division, 3.5 games out of first.
Birds take another one-run game
Wednesday's victory saw Aberdeen score just two runs, but that proved to be enough to hold off State College, and the IronBirds walked away with the 2-1 home win.
The IronBirds scored once in the opening inning, then added another run in the third.
The Spikes' lone tally came in the top of the fifth.
Aberdeen starter Mitch Horacek (1-1) got his first victory of the season, going five innings in which he struck out six, walked one and held the visitors to three hits. The Spikes' only run was unearned.
Williams Louico came on to pitch in the sixth and tossed two perfect innings, striking out two of the six hitters he faced.
IronBirds' closer Jimmy Yacabonis picked up his second save of the year, striking out three, walking one and holding State College hitless over two innings of work.
Tanner Rust went 3-for-3 with one RBI, while Mike Yastrzemski went 1-for-3 with a double, one RBI and one run. Trey Mancini went 1-for-4 with one RBI.
Birds nearly perfect when it's close
From the beginning of July through the 2-1 victory on Wednesday, five of the IronBirds' 10 games were decided by one run, and Aberdeen is nearly flawless when that happens.
Timely hitting has given the IronBirds a 4-1 mark in those five games.
IronBirds' skipper Matt Merullo spoke about his team's clutch performances after one of its recent wins.
"Hitting is one of those things where you don't know when you're going to get it," he said. "I think the timely hitting we've had is a result of guys believing in themselves and not getting down. [They've been] leaving the last inning behind them, going up and taking their whacks the next inning. I've been really impressed the way they've been battling for each other, [and] pulling for each other."
One-run contests aside, the IronBirds have been on a tear this month, going 8-2 through Wednesday. Of the other teams in the McNamara Division, only third-place Staten Island has played nearly as well over the same stretch, going 6-4. Hudson Valley has gone 3-7, while Brooklyn was 4-6.
Breen hitting like mad
In Aberdeen's Wednesday win over State College, shortstop and leadoff man Jared Breen went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and scored one of the IronBirds' two runs. That's a nice line in the box score, but, more noteworthy, with his pair of singles, Breen extended his hitting streak to 13 games, which is the third longest in club history.
Breen, the Orioles' 24th-round selection of this year's June draft, joined former IronBird Rob Marconi, who put his 13-game hit streak together in August and September of the 2005 season.
Two more games would tie Breen with Joe Nowicki, who hit safely in 15 straight contests during the IronBirds 2007 campaign. At the top of the list is former Orioles' utility man Brandon Fahey, who gathered a hit in 17 consecutive games in 2002.
Before extending his hit streak to 13 games, Breen talked about his approach at the plate.
"My approach has been pretty simple," he said. "I'm just trying not to do too much. I keep my goals attainable, try to hit the ball hard and do whatever I can to help the team win.
Breen, who came out of Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., also spoke about transition from the collegiate game to the professional one.
"I think it's easier to play every day, as opposed to being at school, where you've got a lot of other stuff to deal with," he said. "Here, you come out on your own time, you do whatever you have to do, and you get ready to the play the game. You don't feel as taxed. For me, it's been a little bit easier to just come and play every day, and not have to worry about what's going on outside of the field."
'Birds go to extras, again
Less than 24 hours after a 2-1, 12-inning loss to Tri-City on Monday, the Aberdeen IronBirds flipped the script Tuesday afternoon, pasting the host-team ValleyCats for six runs in the 10th inning en route to an 8-2 victory.
The victory put Aberdeen at 12-10 overall on the season and 5-2 in extra-inning contests.
Trailing Tri-City, 2-0, after six innings, the IronBirds tied the game with a pair of runs in the seventh. In the top of the 10th, Aberdeen's bats came to life, with the IronBirds notching six runs to go up, 8-2.
Anthony Vega was the spark behind Aberdeen's 10th-inning rally, bashing out a three-run homer, his second round-tripper of the season. Vega finished the game 3-for-5 with three RBIs and two runs scored.
Kris Richards was 1-for-4 with two runs and one RBI, while Scott Kalush went 1-for-4 with two RBIs. Jeff Kemp was 3-for-5 with a double and one run.
Aberdeen reliever David Richardson (2-1) got the win, tossing two shutout innings in which he struck out two and held the ValleyCats to a pair of hits.