It’s not the way you start that’s key. It’s the way you finish. The Salem Red Sox finished with a bang.
Salem capped off an incredible late-season run Tuesday night, downing the Potomac Nationals 6-4 to complete the 3-game sweep of the Carolina League Mills Cup final at Salem Memorial Stadium.
It was Salem’s first Carolina League championship since 2001 and the first since they became affiliated with the Boston Red Sox. Salem finished the season by going 25-8 over the last 33 regular season games to win the Southern Division second half title over first-half winner Myrtle Beach by six games.
The Sox followed that up with a two-game sweep of Myrtle Beach in the Southern Division championship that set up the Mills Cup showdown with the Nationals that began last Saturday. After a 5-3 win Saturday and 4-0 shutout win on Sunday, the Sox returned home for the potential clincher in the best-of-five series.
Tuesday night Salem jumped out to a 6-1 lead after four innings before stellar relief pitching that followed six strong innings by Sox starter William Cuevas kept the National bats at bay down the stretch.
Salem opened the scoring in the bottom of the second. After David Chester and Nick Natoli hit back-to-back one out singles out of the 7-8 spots in the lineup, leadoff hitter Sean Coyle came to bat with two outs and doubled into the left-center gap, scoring both Chester and Natoli. Potomac got a run back in the third before the Sox came up with the eventual game winner in their half of the fourth.
Mookie Betts got things started with a single and Chester drew a walk on a 3-2 count. Natoli, looking to sacrifice, sent the perfect roller down the third base line that he beat out for a single to load the bases. Matty Johnson followed with a sac-fly to center that scored Betts and advanced the trailing runners to second and third on the throw to the plate. That ended the night for Potomac starter Sammy Solis. Coyle greeted the P-Nats relief staff with a double to the wall in left center, scoring both runners, and Henry Ramos followed by plating Coyle with a double to right. Salem led 6-1.
Potomac added two runs in the fifth and a single tally in the seventh to cut the deficit to 6-4. Sox reliever Matt Price closed the door with a scoreless 8th and 9th to seal the deal for Salem and pick up the save.
Coyle was named the Most Valuable Player after a 2-for-3 and four RBI night in the clincher that left him with a .417 batting average in the playoffs with 3 doubles and 7 RBIs.
– Bill Turner