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A Look Back: The 2019 Season

The Champion Cyclones: 2019 Season Recap
If you studied the baseball champions of years past, you’d find two things to be true.

Every title-winning team enjoyed more success than its competitors, and every winner overcame moments that could have derailed their championship quest.

Take the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, best friends with heartbreak after five World Series losses to the Yankees and one Shot Heard ‘Round the World. That year, the Dodgers won their lone title in a World Series that lasted seven dramatic clashes. But Brooklyn lost the first two games of the series, a deficit which no World Series team before them had overcome. And in Game 7, backup outfielder Sandy Amoros made one of the greatest catches forgotten by history, saving the potential game-tying runs with a lunging grab in the left-field corner.

Look at the Cyclones’ big-league affiliate, and you’ll find plenty more examples of perseverance. The 1969 “Miracle Mets” languished 10 games behind Chicago in the NL East with only a month-and-a-half to play. And in 1986, the Mets’ 10th-inning rally in Game 6 of the World Series lives eternally in baseball lore. Those teams faced overwhelming odds, and yet they brought championships to Queens.

The 2019 season could have easily finished differently for the Brooklyn Cyclones. Instead, the team lived up to its nickname, and the “Cardiac ‘Clones” brought Brooklyn its first pro baseball championship since the days of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese.

The Turn-Around
When the Cyclones arrived in Brooklyn in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, Aug. 17, they were filled with frustration and beginning to unravel. They had just traveled through the night to return home from Burlington, Vt., where they allowed 29 runs in a one-sided, three-game sweep to the sub-.500 Vermont Lake Monsters. Brooklyn had squandered its Wild Card lead and now, at 32-27, sat in third place with 16 games to play.

Around 4 o’clock that afternoon, as the weary Cyclones prepared for a 6:00 p.m. game against Tri-City, third-year manager Edgardo Alfonzo called a team meeting. By multiple accounts, the message from “Fonzie” was clear: “We’re a playoff team, but we need to play like it.” For added encouragement, bench coach Endy Chavez brought two shiny items for show-and-tell. One was a modest gold ring with a small, navy-blue stone in the middle—a 1997 Gulf Coast League championship ring. The other could be seen from outer space: a custom-cut ruby encased in a golden “T”, laid atop a baseball made from round diamonds with ruby seams. The Texas Rangers used 150 diamonds to craft their 2011 AL Pennant ring, the only one earned in Chavez’s 13-year big-league career. “You can earn one of these, too,” he told the team, “but you have to work for it.”

Over the next three nights, Brooklyn swept Tri-City.

The Playoff Push
From there, the team had two days to rest as the New York-Penn League paused for its All-Star Game, which featured five Cyclones: RHP Garrison Bryant, RHP Matt Cleveland, RHP Mitch Ragan, INF Wilmer Reyes, and 1B Joe Genord. Each pitcher threw a scoreless inning, and Cleveland earned the win.

Fresh off a 48-hour vacation, the race for the playoffs continued. Brooklyn had seven games against losing teams before closing the regular season with six against division foes. The Cyclones began with some history, earning Alfonzo his 100th win as Brooklyn’s manager during a four-game split at Connecticut. The Cyclones got a taste of revenge after that, taking two of three from Vermont to climb back into a tie for first place in the Wild Card with its next opponent: Aberdeen.

As Brooklyn headed south for its final road trip, the team added high-profile reinforcements for the stretch run, including 2019 first-round pick Brett Baty and third-rounder Matthew Allan. But the youngsters’ first series proved to be a frustrating one. While the Cyclones departed Brooklyn in position to clinch a playoff berth with a sweep, they returned home having lost two of three, including a walk-off defeat in the final game.

Brooklyn needed a dominant final series of the season just to reach the playoffs. Not knowing exactly how many wins would be enough in a Labor Day Weekend battle with Staten Island, the Cyclones began the set on a high note, exploding for 11 runs behind Mets rehabber Robinson Cano in a blowout win.

The middle game shifted across the Verrazzano Bridge with a pitchers’ duel on tap: Bryant—Brooklyn’s ace—against Cyclone silencer Anderson Munoz. Though neither pitcher was sharp that Sunday afternoon, the Yankees held a 4-1 lead after four innings. But Brooklyn eked out a run in the next two innings, and it was a one-run game late. Entering the ninth trailing 4-3, the Cyclones pulled off one of their most timely rallies of the season. After the first two guys reached base, Jake Mangum, the SEC’s all-time hits king, lined an RBI single to tie the game. A few pitches later, Antoine Duplantis, who finished second behind Mangum on the all-time chart, scored from second on a wild pitch and throwing error to give the Cyclones a lead they wouldn’t concede. In hindsight, a loss that day would’ve bounced Brooklyn from contention. Instead, the Cardiac ‘Clones were very much alive.

Even with a series win secured, Brooklyn woke up on Labor Day knowing it might need to win one more to clinch its first postseason berth in seven years. And sure enough, as the national anthem played at MCU Park, Aberdeen secured the final out of a win at Hudson Valley. The Cyclones had to win to get in. 24-year-old Frank Valentino, a lifelong Mets fan signed out of independent baseball in late June, was entrusted with the start, and he delivered. The right-hander turned in 5.1 innings of one-run ball with a season-high nine strikeouts, and the offense plated four early to snag a 4-1 lead. In the ninth, Reyson Santos slammed the door with three strikeouts, and the sparkling-cider celebration ensued. Brooklyn was the McNamara Division winner for the first time since 2010, and the Cyclones were postseason-bound.

Come-from-Behind Semi-Finals
Though the teams tied for the league’s best record at 43-32, Brooklyn drew Hudson Valley, the Wild Card winner, in the best-of-three Semi-Finals. The Cyclones owned the regular-season series against the Renegades by winning six of the eight meetings, but the postseason series was a dogfight. Playing Game 1 at Dutchess Stadium, Hudson Valley won a back-and-forth affair that saw two ties and two lead changes in the first five innings. Brooklyn had made its triumphant return to the playoffs, but it was swiftly on the verge of elimination.

The series shifted back to Coney Island, where the Cyclones finished with a league-best 24-14 home record. Needing to win both of the games at MCU Park, Brooklyn handled Game 2 by leaning on its strength: pitching. Nate Jones, Allan, Corey Gaconi, and Nelson Leon combined for a one-hit shutout, holding the Renegades without a hit until a bloop single ended the no-hitter in the seventh inning. Jed Lowrie, the sixth Met to rehab with Brooklyn this year, provided the game’s only run, jolting the first pitch of the fourth inning into the right-field bleachers. The Cyclones lived to see another day.

In the winner-take-all Game 3, the Renegades’ lineup awakened early, plating a run in each of the first three innings. But Brooklyn’s bats matched the task, tying the game at 3-3 in the fourth. The bullpens traded zeroes until the ninth inning, where Ranfy Adon struck again. After collecting a hit in all three games, the 22-year-old outfielder grew into the Cyclones’ postseason hero, even banging a solo home run off the scoreboard earlier in the night. As he stood at the plate with the tying run at second base, the Brooklyn faithful chanted his name. The man with the megawatt smile delivered, stroking a fly ball over the right-fielder’s head. Yoel Romero slid across home plate, and Brooklyn walked off into the Finals.

The Cardiac ‘Clones Win a Championship
If you asked somebody on July 30 to predict the Championship Series matchup, the most likely response would have been Brooklyn and Lowell, the league’s two best teams at the time. Sure enough, despite both clubs’ late-season struggles, the Cyclones were in Lowell, Ma. on Sunday, Sept. 8, ready to play Game 1 of the Finals. Lowell arrived in the final series through a path similar to Brooklyn’s, winning two games at home on walk-offs against Batavia after losing the first game on the road. Lowell may have stumbled to a 11-19 record in August, but they were still the Stedler Division winner.

Brooklyn felt confident entering the game, with Bryant eager to bounce back from his final regular-season outing. He spun six shutout innings in his playoff debut, but the Cyclones had been shut out, too. Finally, in the eighth, Brooklyn cracked the pitchers’ duel against Triple-A reliever Tom Windle. Baty, playing in his own pro playoff debut, led off with a single, and Adon reached base after him. Jose Mena and Duplantis followed with sacrifice flies to right-center-field to hand their team a 2-0 lead. It might not have been highlight-worthy, but it got the job done. In the bottom of the ninth, Lowell’s offense finally awoke, putting two runners on against Cyclone reliever Matt Mullenbach. Santos entered to slam the door, but a run-scoring single from Nick Northcut moved the tying run to third. Finally, Santos induced a ground ball to shortstop, and the Brooklyn Cyclones had their first Finals win in 6,572 days—two days shy of 18 full years.

Coney Island’s ballclub trekked home a win away from a title, but Lowell would not go down quietly. The Spinners returned the favor on the road in Game 2, scoring three early runs and leaning on stellar pitching for a 3-1 win. Once again, Brooklyn found itself in a winner-take-all Game 3.

On a cool, windy, Tuesday evening in a subdued, post-summer Coney Island, Brooklyn and Lowell took the field at MCU Park to crown a champion. The hometown Cyclones struck first, plating two in the bottom of the second. Lowell countered with two of its own in the top of the third. But that would be all the scoring until the late innings. Matthew Allan spun three perfect innings with two strikeouts in his playoff debut, and, in the fourth inning, the Spinners turned to Yusniel Padron-Artilles. His outing in Game 2 against Batavia had quickly become the stuff of legend: six one-hit innings, no runs, and 14 strikeouts, including 12 straight over his first four innings of dissection. On this night, it appeared to be more of the same for the Cuban right-hander, who worked through three perfect innings on just 26 pitches.

But in the seventh inning, the Cyclones quickly realized they had to produce something—fast. Ragan entered to pitch for Brooklyn in the top of the frame and fell behind his first batter, designated hitter Marino Campana. The Creighton grad laid a 3-1 fastball over the plate, and Campana turned it around at 107 mph over the left-field fence. 3-2 Lowell, and nine outs left in Brooklyn’s season.

As the bottom of the inning arrived, it appeared Padron-Artilles would continue to cruise, inducing a routine fly out to start. When Mangum came to the plate next, he did something only one other Cyclone had done against Padron-Artilles: take the first three pitches. On the fifth pitch of the patient at-bat, Mangum bounced a seeing-eye single up the middle. Brooklyn had a baserunner. Duplantis followed suit and took ball one. The next pitch hung over the inside corner, and the lefty yanked it down the right-field line. By the time the proverbial dust settled, Mangum had scored, Duplantis stood at third, and Brooklyn had tied the ballgame. While the momentum had suddenly shifted, Romero, the following hitter, kept the same patience. After taking the first two offerings, he roped a line drive through the left side of the infield. 4-3 Brooklyn, and six outs until pandemonium.

Andrew Edwards, the southpaw from New Mexico State who had struck out 14 of the previous 20 batters he faced, entered from the bullpen in the eighth and posted a zero. Three outs to go. In the ninth, tension mounted as two of the first three Lowell batters reached base, placing the tying run in scoring position with one out. But in the next at-bat, Edwards drew a favorable matchup with a left-handed hitter, and struck him out. MCU Park came to its feet. One more to go. Lowell sent a pinch-hitter, former All-Big Ten honoree Alex Erro, to the plate with the season on the line.

Swing and a miss. Strike one.
Swing and a miss again. Strike two.
Swing and a miss once more. Strike three.

Edwards chucked his mitt skyward as the catcher Jake Ortega sprinted to the mound and embraced him. An avalanche of ballplayers vaulted over the Cyclones’ dugout railing and onto the field. Out came the red tub of bottles, and soon everybody was soaked.

The Cardiac Cyclones had won six do-or-die games in 11 days to march into the playoffs and out with the trophy.

For the first time since the 2001 team, the Brooklyn Cyclones were champions. And, for the first time since “Dem Bums” in 1955, Brooklyn had an outright, undisputed baseball king.

Epilogue
As the warmth of summer swept into New York City in 2001, the Brooklyn Cyclones were the talk of the town.

20-somethings at the bottom of the minor-league ladder were treated like celebrities across the Big Apple. Sold-out crowds cheered them on every night. Mom, Dad, and the kids all wanted their autographs. The real celebrities introduced themselves to the Cyclones, not the other way around.

To say that, for a summer, they were Brooklyn’s Beatles would not be far off. And why should they have been treated any other way? After all, the Cyclones brought pro baseball back to Brooklyn.

That team did everything in their control to bring a championship to the borough, too. The 2001 Cyclones won 52 games and posted the league’s best record. They romped through the Semi-Finals and even won Game 1 of the Championship Series.

Brooklyn returned home for a day off before Game 2 the following night, a chance for the Cyclones to author the jubilant final page of a dream inaugural season.

But there would be no more Brooklyn baseball games that year. As the Cyclones rose from bed on their off day, ash and debris from the most devastating terrorist attack in U.S. history had carried all the way to Coney Island from lower Manhattan.

The remainder of the series was quickly canceled. The Cyclones and the Williamsport CrossCutters were named co-champions at some point in the ensuing days. The fledgling Brooklyn franchise turned its attention to helping its city back onto its feet while the entire nation mourned.

In the 17 seasons that followed, a number of close calls with a title proved fruitless. Brooklyn returned to the Finals three times—2003, 2007, and 2010—only to be swept aside each time without winning a game.

But this year, the 2019 Cyclones completed one team’s story while penning the triumphant final chapter of their own. A day after winning it all, they hoisted the New York-Penn League trophy as they walked into Citi Field, visiting the big club’s ballpark as honored guests and outright champions.

And on Sept. 11, 2019, the champion Cyclones watched the Mets win a baseball game with nine runs on 11 hits.

--By Dom Savino for BC.com



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