Indians knock Pelicans from playoff perch

Kinston’s Jesus Aguilar only had two hits in the Carolina League Southern Division Championship Series. He made sure they were both devastating.

Aguilar’s three-run fourth-inning homer erased an early 2-0 Pelicans lead, and the Indians didn’t look back from there, plating six unearned runs against Pelicans pitchers en route to an 9-2 victory over Myrtle Beach and a berth in the Mills Cup Championship Series next week. Kinston’s three games to one series win eliminates the Pelicans from the 2011 Carolina League playoffs.

Saturday night started with a promising air for the Pelicans who plated single runs against Kinston starter Mike Rayl in the third and fourth on RBI singles by Leury Garcia and Santiago Chirino. Myrtle Beach’s 2-0 lead was its first since the second inning of game two, and it would be its last.

Pelicans starter Kennil Gomez, moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation late in the season, turned in an admirable effort, but his one mistake pitch to Aguilar doomed Myrtle Beach. With runners at first and third and one out in the fourth, Aguilar connected with a Gomez fastball and deposited it over the left-field wall to give the Indians a 3-2 lead. Aguilar’s lone other hit in the series was the eventual game-winning RBI single in Kinston’s 8-6 11-inning Game 2 win. Gomez (0-1) lasted six innings, matching Justin Grimm’s victorious Game 1 effort as the longest appearance by a Pelicans starter in the series, and allowed four total Kinston runs, three earned, on six hits. He struck out six and walked three.

The K-Tribe added their first unearned tally against Gomez in the sixth when, with runners at first and second and two outs, Casey Frawley hit a grounder back up the middle that Leury Garcia cut off. Garcia’s flip to second base was an errant one, however, and Jeremie Tice scored from second to give the Indians breathing room at 4-2.

Kinston broke things open in a gut-wrenching bottom of the eighth. After Pelicans reliever Joe Ortiz whiffed the first two men of the inning, trying to get his team to the bat rack with a two-run deficit in the ninth, a Frawley grounder got past Pelicans third baseman Mike Olt for an error that would open the floodgates. The next five Indians reached, and five runs came across against Ortiz and Ryan Rodebaugh to break the game open at 9-2.

Indians left-hander Rayl (1-0) went five innings and picked up the victory. Toru Murata retired the Pelicans in order in the ninth to send the 887 in attendance into jubilation.

The Saturday loss wraps up an outstanding first year for the Pelicans in their new affiliation with the Texas Rangers. Myrtle Beach clinched the Southern Division first-half title with a 40-29 record and boasted the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Year in Robbie Ross as well as four CL Postseason All-Stars in 2011. The Pelicans made their first postseason appearance since 2008 after back-to-back sub-.500 years in their last two seasons under the Atlanta Braves, and Myrtle Beach was one of five Rangers’ affiliates to make the postseason in their respective leagues.

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