If the first-place IronBirds are waiting for the rest of the New York-Penn League's McNamara Division to ease up so the Aberdeen club can cruise to its first ever title, they might be disappointed, as over the last week and a half, nobody has given an inch.
Through their last 10 games, none of the four McNamara Division teams have played under the .500 mark, with Aberdeen, Hudson Valley and Staten Island all going 5-5, while the hard-charging Brooklyn team, which was just a half game behind the IronBirds as of Tuesday, went 7-3. The IronBirds (34-29) have won three straight, while Brooklyn (35-31) was riding a four-game winning streak. Third-place Hudson Valley (32-34) was still within striking distance of the IronBirds, 3.5 games back, and Staten Island (27-39) was a distant 8.5 games out of first.
Aberdeen has one week left in the 2013 season to stand tall, or fall to the wayside. After wrapping up a three-game road trip on Wednesday, the IronBirds are scheduled to come home for a two-date set with Hudson Valley, then they will travel to New York for what will arguably be the most important series of the season, a two-game engagement with Brooklyn. Three home games with visiting Lowell will then close out the IronBirds' regular-season schedule.
Badly needed victory
Needing a victory Monday night to avoid losing their half-game lead in the McNamara Division, the IronBirds came through against the host Lowell Spinners, rallying for five runs in the top of the 11th en route to an 8-3 win.
The victory was Aberdeen's third straight, and it allowed the IronBirds to stay a half game ahead of Brooklyn, which had completed its 12-5 win over Vermont earlier in the evening.
In Monday's contest, Aberdeen, down 3-1 after four innings, tied things at 3-3 in the top of the fifth, then both clubs went silent for the five innings. In the top of the 11th, Aberdeen found the solution, rallying for five before the Spinners could retire the side.
Leading the charge in the 11th were right fielder Manny Hernandez and left fielder Conor Bierfeldt, who each ripped a home run. Hernandez's first round-tripper of the season was a three-run job, while Bierfeldt's, his team-best ninth of the year, was a solo shot.
Baltimore Orioles' first-round draft pick Hunter Harvey made his second start with Aberdeen, but failed to rack up a decision. Over 3-1/3 innings, Harvey struck out five, walked two and allowed three earned runs on six hits.
Reliever Augey Bill (2-0) earned the win, going 2-2/3 shutout innings in which he struck out three, walked two and held the Spinners to a pair of hits.
Bierfeldt went 2-for-5 with two RBIs and one run scored, while Hernandez, the only other IronBird with multiple hits, went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored.
'Birds take second straight
The Aberdeen IronBirds made the best of their short home series Sunday, beating the Connecticut Tigers, 5-2, for the second straight day at Ripken Stadium in New York-Penn League action.
Sunday's win was highlighted by Bierfeldt's offensive efforts. The outfielder went 3-for-4 and reached base in four of his five plate appearances. He picked up his 14th double of the season and drove in a run during the IronBirds' three-run fourth inning, which propelled the IronBirds to the series clinching win.
Aberdeen had taken a 2-0 lead with single runs in each of the first and second innings, but Connecticut plated a pair of runs in the top of the fourth to knot the game, 2-2. Mike Yastrzemski, Bierfeldt and Hector Veloz each had RBI singles in the inning, when Aberdeen sent eight men to the plate, with five reaching base on four hits and a walk. Yastrzemski (1-for-4) finished with two RBIs and a run scored and Jared Breen, who singled in the inning, finished 2-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored
Trey Mancini improved his team-best batting average to .329, going 1-for-3 with two runs scored.
Sebastian Vader had another solid outing on the mound for Aberdeen. The starting pitcher threw 5-2/3 innings, giving up two runs (one earned) to get his sixth win of the season. He struck out four and walked one and scattered seven hits. Vader dropped his ERA to 2.64 on the season. Donnie Hart earned his third save.
The win kept the IronBirds a half game ahead in the McNamara Division. Brooklyn (34-31) and Hudson Valley (32-33, 2.5 games back) were both winners Sunday.
A 5-2 win Saturday
In Aberdeen's 5-2 win Saturday, the IronBirds took advantage of some sloppy Connecticut defense, which led to three Aberdeen runs in the eighth inning at Ripken Stadium.
In that game-winning eighth inning, Mancini and Austin Wynns led the inning off with singles. Bierfeldt followed with a slow bouncer to shortstop Curt Powell. Powell's throw to first sailed high, allowing Mancini to score and Wynns and Bierfeldt to advance to third and second base, respectively.
After Veloz struck out, Pedro Perez grounded out to shortstop. With the infield in, Wynns took off on contact. Powell got the out at first, allowing Wynns to score. On his throw to first, Bierfeldt took off for third, forcing a throw from first baseman Pat Leyland. His throw skipped into foul territory, allowing Bierfeldt to also score.
Federico Castagnini (2-for-4) was the only IronBird to have multiple hits. Jimmy Yacobonis pitched two scoreless and hitless innings to earn the win.
'Birds come home and lose
The Aberdeen IronBirds returned to the comfortable confines of Ripken Stadium Friday, but the New York-Penn League game with the Connecticut Tigers was anything but comforting. Connecticut, with a four-run, seventh inning outburst, beat the IronBirds, 8-2.
With the loss, Aberdeen (31-29) saw its McNamara Division lead slip to just a half game once again because the Brooklyn Cyclones (32-31) pounded the Vermont Lake Monsters, 10-2. Hudson Valley (30-33) was also a winner, to get back to within two and a half games.
In Aberdeen's loss, the IronBirds were limited to just five hits and two runs. They scored single runs in the fifth and seventh innings.
Hernandez tripled into the right field gap with one out and scored on a single by Tanner Rust in the fifth, while Aberdeen's second run came after a Veloz triple and an Wynns' groundout.
Connecticut's Austin Schotts and Curt Powell were the biggest problems for the IronBirds as they wreaked havoc all night. Schotts got on base in all four of his plate appearances, going 3-for-3 with a triple, three runs scored, a walk and three stolen bases. Powell went 2-for-4 with a triple, a run scored, a stolen base and a walk. He also drove in three of the Tigers' eight runs.
Mancini stayed hot for Aberdeen, banging out two hits in three trips to the plate.
Austin Urban was charged with the loss for the IronBirds, dropping his record to 1-5. He gave up three runs on four hits and two walks. He struck out one.
'Birds head home with loss
Finishing up a two-game road trip in Hudson Valley Thursday night, the Aberdeen IronBirds tried to come away with a sweep, but the Renegades had other ideas.
Hudson Valley scored single runs in four different innings to send the IronBirds away with a 4-2 defeat. The loss dropped Aberdeen to 31-28, but its one and a half game lead was still intact as Brooklyn lost again to Staten Island, 7-1.
Aberdeen, meanwhile, could muster just single runs themselves, scoring one in the second inning and one in the ninth.
Bierfeldt singled and scored on an Wynns' RBI groundout in the second, while Byron Capellan singled in Hector Veloz for the run in the ninth. Capellan, from Frederick, is with Aberdeen on a rehab assignment.
Pitcher issues for Aberdeen aided two of Hudson Valley's runs. Reliever Janser Severino came on in the fifth with runners on first and second. Consecutive wild pitches led to the Renegades second run. In the seventh, Severino balked in the third Hudson Valley run. The Renegades final run was the result of an error and Severino's third wild pitch.
Bierfeldt and Veloz each had two hits to pace a nine-hit Aberdeen attack. Hudson Valley had six hits.