With the best-of-five Florida State League Championship Series tied at 1, Bradenton eliminated much of the suspense from Sunday’s Game 3 almost immediately and went on to a 9-0 victory against Tampa at McKechnie Field.
Batting first as the visiting team in their own park, the Marauders sent seven batters to the plate in a four-run first inning that included four hits off Tampa starter Yefrey Ramirez. Chase Simpson singled home Logan Ratledge and Kevin Kramer, while Jerrick Suiter scored on a double by Connor Joe. Simpson crossed the plate on Jordan Luplow’s sacrifice fly to center.
“It was weird,” said Bradenton manager Michael Ryan of batting first. “It was really weird (wearing) the grey pants to be honest with you, but not weird to those guys. To throw out the four-spot in the first was huge for us.”
The Marauders are the designated visiting team for Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5 because Tampa’s home park, Steinbrenner Field, is undergoing renovations that began at the start of the month, forcing the Yankees on the road throughout the playoffs.
Bradenton right-hander Mitch Keller, who went 8-5 this season with West Virginia of the South Atlantic League and made one regular-season start with the Marauders after being promoted, cruised to his second postseason victory.
In Bradenton’s 11-5 playoff-opening win at St. Lucie five days earlier, Keller gave up three earned runs on five hits and struck out eight in 5 2/3 innings. On Sunday, Keller tossed eight innings of four-hit ball before giving way to Sam Street. Keller struck out one and walked two.
“After getting that big lead in the first, you’re just pitching to contact and just trying to get those back in the dugout to score more runs,” Keller said. “That’s what they did.”
Keller gave up a lead-off walk to Jorge Matteo and a single to Thairo Estrada before inducing a fielder’s choice and inning-ending double play in the first. It was the first of three double plays turned by the Marauders. Their last came in the eighth after Keller allowed back-to-back singles with one out.
It was the longest start of Keller’s career. The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was drafted by Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2014 draft.
“As the game went on, I felt better than when I started,” said Keller, who reached 98 miles per hour on the radar gun. “I had a lot more confidence in what I was doing and the guys behind me made every play, except for one, behind me. That was great.
Pacing Bradenton’s 13-hit attack was Suiter, who finished with three hits. Ratledge, Simpson, Joe and Luplow each had two hits.
Joe took a 1-2 pitch from Ramirez deep to left for a two-run home run, which plated Suiter, with two outs in the top of the third. Luplow followed with a single to left that signaled the end for Ramirez after six runs on seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings.
Simpson notched his third RBI of the game in the fourth with a sacrifice fly to center field that scored Ratledge, who had a one-out double against Tampa reliever Cody Hamlin. Bradenton added two more runs in the top of the ninth on Luplow’s home run off Sean Carley.
Bradenton, which is making its fourth trip to the postseason in seven seasons of existence, can win its first league championship with a victory in Game 4 today at 6:30 p.m. at McKechnie Field. The Marauders will send right-hander J.T. Brubaker to the mound, and the Yankees will counter with lefty Josh Rogers.
“The word of the day (today) will be finish,” said Ryan.
It is uncertain whether catcher Christian Kelley will be available for Game 4. He left the game with an apparent lower back injury after tracking down a ball in the dirt throwing out Tampa’s Connor Spencer trying to advance to second. Kelley went to the ground following his throw and remained there for several moments before walking to the dugout under his own power. He was replaced in the lineup by Taylor Gushoe, but Ryan said after the game that Kelley was feeling better.
Who: Bradenton vs. Tampa
What: Game 4 of FSL best-of-five championship series, Bradenton leads 2-1.
When: Monday, 6:30 p.m.
Where: McKechnie Field, Bradenton
Probable pitchers: J.T. Brubaker (2-6, 5.32) vs. Josh Rogers (10-5, 2.53)
Online: Audio livestreamed via bradentonmarauders.com or via TuneIn app.
Tickets: at stadium ticket office.
Sept. 9: Bradenton 8, Tampa 1
Sept. 10: Tampa 5, Bradenton 4
Sept. 11: Bradenton 9, Tampa 0.
Monday: Bradenton at Tampa*, 6:30 p.m.
x-Tuesday: Bradenton at Tampa*, 6:30 p.m.
* at McKechnie Field, Bradenton