RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It took all 142 games, but the Squirrels have finally booked their ticket to the playoffs.
Moments after Wes Hodges delivered a low-flying solo-home run to right field in the top of the eighth inning, heavy rains rendered Blair County Ballpark unplayable, sending the Richmond Flying Squirrels (76-66) to the post-season with a rain-shortened, 2-1, victory over the Altoona Curve (64-77). Although the Curve never batted in the eighth inning, the Squirrels were declared the winner of the ballgame and in turn the wild-card due to Rule 4.12 in the 2011 MLB Official Rule Book.
Rule 4.12, (b), (4): Any suspended game not completed prior to the last scheduled game between the two teams during the championship season shall become a called game. If such game becomes a called game and has progressed far enough to become a regulation game, and one team is ahead, the team that is ahead shall be declared the winner.
On the final pitch before rains forced the early completion of the ballgame, Hodges delivered a line-shot down the right-field line off of Curve right-hander Tim Alderson. Off the bat, the ball appeared headed for foul territory, but it knuckled back before ducking just inside the right-field foul pole and just over the wall. The solo-shot turned into the game-winner, delivering the Squirrels the wild-card spot in the Western Division.
After squandering two early-inning opportunities, the Squirrels finally broke through against Curve right-hander Phil Irwin in the third inning. Irwin issued a rare walk to Charlie Culberson to start the inning. He moved up to second on a groundout, and scored when Chris Dominguez lined a single into left field. Dominguez did not receive an RBI, and the run was unearned due to an error on the play charged to Altoona left fielder Quincy Latimore.
Irwin was routinely under pressure from the Squirrels, but only yielded the lone run over five innings. He surrendered seven hits, walked one and struck out four, leaving with Richmond ahead, 1-0.
Making his Squirrels' debut, left-hander Jason Stevenson kept the Curve at bay through five innings. However, Starling Marte sparked Altoona to a game-tying rally in the sixth. Marte led off with a single to right-center field and was bunted to second base by Greg Picart. A batter later, Andrew Lambo laced an RBI single into right field to even the ballgame, 1-1.
Stevenson (1-0) finished seven innings for Richmond, allowing just the lone run on eight hits. He walked two and struck out seven. Stevenson, having been the only hurler used by the Squirrels, was declared the winner when the game was halted early. Alderson (0-4) took the loss for Altoona, allowing the winning run to Richmond in the eighth inning.
The post-season berth is the first in the second year of existence for the Flying Squirrels. The San Francisco Giants' former Double-A affiliate, the Connecticut Defenders last advanced the playoffs in 2009, ultimately falling in the Eastern League Championship Series to the Akron Aeros (Cleveland Indians).
Richmond will oppose the Harrisburg Senators (Washington Nationals) in the West Divisional Series, beginning at Metro Bank Park in Harrisburg, PA, on Wednesday night. The Senators will host games one and two, with a guaranteed game three to be played at The Diamond on Friday night.