TRENTON– The Double-A Readin Fightin Phils (89-52) used their last turn at bat in the regular season to remind everyone why they were dominant all season long, launching three home runs in the 10th inning to lock down an 11-6 victory over the rival Trenton Thunder (87-55) on Monday at ARM & HAMMER Park.
The heart of the Fightins’ batting order did what fans had become accustomed to seeing throughout 2016 from their powerhouse lineup. Outfielder Dylan Cozens, who is a virtual lock to be named the Eastern League’s Most Valuable Player, increased his team home run record when he blasted his 40th long ball of the season, deep to right field off of Thunder reliever Cale Coshow.
The Cozens blast was the farthest ball I’ve seen hit into the water of the Delaware River in my 20-plus years of going to baseball games at the former Waterfront Park.
Continuing with ways of the “bash brothers”, first baseman Rhys Hoskins launched his 38th homer of the season in the very next at bat to pad the visitors’ lead. Following a Jake Fox single, third baseman Harold Martinez blasted his ninth homer of the season. A Roman Quinn RBI double, his third hit of the contest, would wrap up the scoring for the day.
“It’s neat and for those guys to go back-to-back to finish a season like they’ve both had is a special way to do it,” Reading manager Dusty Wathan stated. “Obviously, it’s just the regular season and we have other things to do, but it’s nice to see Dylan get to 40 and Rhys get to 38.”
Reading got the scoring underway in the top of the 1st against Thunder starter Kyle Haynes. Cozens laced a run-scoring single that set the Fightins’ single season total bases mark at 304, passing the previous mark set (303) set by Darin Ruf in 2012. A Hoskins RBI double and a two-run double by Martinez gave Reading a 4-0 lead.
Trenton would chip away at their deficit. Following a sac fly in the 2nd inning, a three-run homer by Dante Bichette Jr. tied the game in the 4th inning.
Reading reliever Jesen Therrien gave up a run on a single by Francisco Diaz to tie the game at 6-6.
Victor Arano took the mound for Reading in the ninth. A lead off walk followed by a double would lead to an intentional walk to set up a force out around the diamond. Billy Fleming would fly out to center field, as Quinn made a strong throw home to prevent a run from scoring. Bichette grounded out to third, where Martinez made a spectacular bare handed grab to gun out the runner at home by a hair. Arano would draw a grounder back to himself for the final out of the frame to give his team another opportunity in extra innings.
Left-hander Joey DeNato tossed a scoreless frame to close out the victory for Reading.
“It’s definitely a nice thing to go into the postseason with,” Quinn said of the fashion in which his club won. “I was talking to my hitting coach, Frank (Cacciatore), about how it felt like a playoff game already and just to get ready for the playoffs was great. We had a couple great plays. Arano did a great job of getting out of that and Harold made a heck of a play. A bare hand to get him out at home, but it was crucial.”
Quinn, who, along with his three hits (two doubles) and two RBI, also swiped two bases was thrilled to be back in action following a stint on the disabled list with a concussion recently. The 23-year-old switch hitter was clear on his expectations for the playoffs.
“To win it,” Quinn said with an intense look on his face. “Just to win the series and get to the championship and that’s the goal. That’s been the goal all season.”
Reading returns to Trenton on Wednesday as the teams will open their best-of-five Eastern League Division Series with a 7:00 PM start time. Reading’s rotation for the ELDS, according to Wathan, will be Mark Leiter Jr., Ricardo Pinto, Clearwater starter Elniery Garcia, Tyler Viza and John Richy.