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Two, maybe three, teams reach playoffs

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Frederick is in, Delmarva is in and the Bowie Baysox face a must-win situation to qualify for postseason play.

If the Baysox get into the playoffs, it would mean that three of the Orioles' six minor league teams qualified.

"It would make me, very, very happy if we got three teams in the playoffs, but they don't have to be in," said David Stockstill, Orioles director of minor league operations, who said at the start of the season that "stressing winning baseball and respect for the game" were goals.

"Just the fact that we have [three] teams this close in the last week of the season has us pleased."

The Keys (43-26) have qualified for the Single-A Carolina League playoffs and will host the Lynchburg Hillcats at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday. It's the start of a best-of-three series between the first-half winner (Hillcats) and the second-half winner (Keys) in the North Division.

Bowie, which has not been in the playoffs since 1997, needed to win its final two Double-A Eastern League games at home over the Altoona Curve to clinch the final Southern Division berth outright. Both teams were 74-66 going into yesterday's game, won by Altoona, 4-1 on Josh Bonifay's three-run homer in the 15th inning off Chris Piersoll (5-1, 1.61), who suffered his first loss.

The Baysox have to win today to force a one-game playoff.

Either Bowie or Altoona will play a best-of-five with first-place Akron (83-58) for the Southern Division title.

Delmarva's 7-2 win last night in Lakewood, N.J., gave the Shorebirds (42-26) the second-half title in the Single-A South Atlantic League North Division.

Delmarva plays the Hagerstown Suns, the first-half winner, in a best-of-three series for the North Division title.

Triple-A Ottawa

The Lynx (68-75) promoted second baseman Bernie Castro and first baseman Walter Young to the Orioles last week, joining pitcher John Maine.

Castro had a banner season for the Lynx, hitting .315 (third in the International League) with 41 stolen bases (third) and 81 runs (fifth). The switch-hitter became the fifth player in Ottawa's 13-year franchise history to be named a postseason All-Star and set a team record for hits (157).

Double-A Bowie

Nick Markakis is leading the Baysox in batting at .351 (40-for-114) since being called up from Frederick.

"Teams have been pitching him outside, and he has made the adjustment by hitting line drives to left," Stockstill said of Markakis, who nearly hit one out in the bottom of the 14th yesterday to win the game, but it was caught against the fence.

Markakis has been playing center field and done an excellent job, but Stockstill says "his best position is right field. He has more of a chance to be a standout in right field than he does in center."

Cory Morris (8-5, 3.03) started yesterday's marathon in Bowie and went six scoreless innings giving up three hits and striking out 11 (159 total) with what Stockstill said was "the best curveball I've ever seen him throw."

Bowie pitching coach Larry McCall added that "we changed it from a knuckle-curve grip to him using all four fingers and he's had better control of it the last couple months."

Ryan Keefer (7-3, 3.20) replaced Morris in the seventh and threw two scoreless innings before Sendy Rleal (4-4, 2.04) failed to notch his 17th save by giving up a run in the ninth to send it into extra innings. Rleal pitched a rare four innings in relief before giving way to Chris Piersoll.

Hayden Penn (7-6, 3.83), who was sent back to Bowie right after going five innings for the Orioles on Thursday, could go on three days' rest today at 1:05. If not, Matt Bruback (5-1, 4.14) would likely go to try to force a playoff game tomorrow.

Single-A Frederick

The Keys (43-26) will take a winning blend of pitching and batting into the Carolina League playoffs. Right-hander James Johnson leads the league in strikeouts (167) and is tied for first in wins (12-9).

Brian Finch (10-10) has the league's second-best ERA (3.38). Adam Loewen, who has had a strong second half, is 9-8 with a 4.15 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 141 innings.

First baseman Mario Delgado is the league's fifth-best batter at .308 (131-for-425) and is third in homers (26) and sixth in RBIs (86). Other top hitters have been Nate Spears (.297, 30 doubles) and Jeff Fiorentino (.289, 22 homers, 65 RBIs).

Single-A Delmarva

Jason Fransz, an outfielder- first baseman who missed 20 games at the start of the season due to his mother's death, leads the South Atlantic League in RBIs (110).

"Jason missed a lot of games at the beginning, but really got it going," said Delmarva manager Gary Kendall. "The power is definitely there, and velocity doesn't bother him. And he hangs with the breaking ball. He's a pretty good hitter."

Fransz also leads the Shorebirds in homers (21) and doubles (33) while hitting .309.

The Delmarva pitchers continue to frustrate opponents with Kevin Hart (9-8, 4.55), Luis Ramirez (9-7, 2.55) and Carlos Perez (11-8, 4.28), second, third and fourth in the league, respectively.

Single-A Aberdeen

The IronBirds (25-46) end their season Wednesday and Thursday in Hudson Valley. Robert Marconi and Mark Fleisher lead the team in batting at .300 and .280, respectively, while shortstop Ryan Steinbach is hitting .278.

Reid Hamblet has the top pitching record of 4-3, 3.97 ERA in 47 2/3 innings.

Rookie-level Bluefield

Bluefield's season is over at 31-36 in the Appalachian League. Infielder Rene Aqueron led the Orioles and the league in batting at .405 (66-for-163), while shortstop Stu Musslewhite hit .300 (67-for-223), leading the club in homers (eight) and RBIs (36).

Alberto Bastardo had the best pitching record (4-1, 4.04), and Wilfrido Perez (3-4) had the league's fifth-best ERA (3.26). Former Northeast High and CCBC-Catonsville right-hander Chorye Spoone finished 2-5 with an 8.03 ERA.

Orioles farm report

Three up

Despite batting .249 with a modest on-base percentage of .354, Arturo Rivas leads Delmarva in runs scored with 76.

The Keys had 35 runs and 41 hits in two nights in routs of Lynchburg to clinch the Carolina League North second-half title and their first home playoff game since 2000.

Simon Pond, Bowie's top power hitter with 19 homers and 75 RBIs, was scheduled to join the Canadian national team in the Netherlands for the Baseball World Cup but decided to stay in Bowie for the stretch run.

Three down

If the Baysox make the Eastern League playoffs, they will play without Peter Bergeron (.296), one of their most consistent hitters, who was placed on the DL with a strained oblique last week.

Bluefield pitchers led the Appalachian League in strikeouts with 641 but also led the league in walks with 274 in 564 2/3 innings.

Going 3-7 during their past 10 games with four straight losses, the Lynx fell to 68-75 in the International League.

On deck

The IronBirds will give a free cap to the first 500 fans who make donations to the Red Cross New Orleans-Disaster Relief Fund today and tomorrow at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen as they host Brooklyn, N.Y., 7:05 each night.

- Pat O'Malley

Maryland spotlight

Kennard Jones

Position: Outfielder, L/L

Size: 5 feet 11, 185 pounds

Age: 23

Hometown: Beltsville

High school: High Point

College: Indiana

Drafted: Third round, 85th pick overall in 2002 by the San Diego Padres.

Pro team: Portland Beavers of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, San Diego Padres' affiliate.

Statistics: Batting .222 (6-for-27) in first six games after being promoted from Double-A to Triple-A; batted .281 (137-for-487) with 62 runs, 23 doubles, four triples, one homer, 60 RBIs in 124 games at Mobile.

Skinny: Jones was promoted on Aug. 29 after drawing 71 walks and stealing 23 bases; one of his Beavers teammates is former Oriole Manny Alexander, 34.

- Pat O'Malley

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