In a season with as many skyscraping ascents, heart-stopping drops, and hairpin turns as the roller-coaster rides that stand beyond MCU Park’s left-field fence, the Cyclones lived up to their namesake in 2018.
Thanks to a blend of new and familiar faces, Brooklyn posted its first winning campaign in four years and eclipsed the 40-win mark for the 13th time in the franchise’s 18-year history.
Jaison Vilera stumped NYPL batters with a month-long scoreless streak. Ross Adolph won All-Star Game MVP accolades and tied a franchise record. Walter Rasquin returned to Brooklyn for a second season and toppled three more records.
Yet, in Edgardo Alfonzo’s second season as manager, Brooklyn fell agonizingly short in its pursuit of a postseason berth, finishing a half-game out of the Wild Card in a playoff chase decided on the season’s final day.
It was a summer much like a young Brooklynite’s first ride on the Cyclone or the Thunderbolt—unpredictably exhilarating from beginning to end.
New and Old Start Bold
A roster of 35 players and a four-man coaching staff comprised Brooklyn’s Opening Day roster. Nine selections from the recent MLB Draft and 10 returners from 2017 provided a balance of first-year pros and veterans. Edgardo Alfonzo and pitching coach Royce Ring embarked on their second go-around in Brooklyn, accompanied by first-year hitting coach Marlon Anderson. Rich Donnelly, the Cyclones’ manager from 2011 to 2013, rejoined the organization to be the bench coach for “Fonzie,” who sought to expunge last year’s woes from memory with a successful second season.
The Cyclones opened 2018 at cross-bridge rival Staten Island on Friday, June 15, a balmy, 75-degree evening at the start of summer. Christian James, a 20-year-old righthander who had made spot starts as high as Double-A during the spring, earned the Opening Day start, becoming the third-youngest pitcher to do so in franchise history. Despite James’ five shutout innings, the Cyclones were no-hit for the first six innings and fell 3-1.
Very quickly, though, it was apparent that this year’s bunch was full of talent. Brooklyn got in the win column the following night, when it played its home opener against the Baby Bombers. Jose Brizuela had the fourth two-triple game in franchise history, former S.I. Yankee Kendall Coleman gained revenge with a grand slam, and starter Briam Campusano tossed six of his own no-hit frames en route to a combined one-hitter and a 7-0 victory. It was the first “W” in a torrid start to the season, which saw the ballclub begin 9-3 by claiming its first four series. Brooklyn swept its first road trip, topping Connecticut for three wins from June 21-23. The Cyclones capped off their time in Norwich with a five-run, ninth-inning rally to clinch a series-sweeping, 8-4 win.
After the season’s first off day on June 27, Coney Island’s baseball team hit its first rough patch as it trekked to Vermont. In Burlington’s humid air, the two teams combined for 50 runs, 71 hits, and 14 errors over three lopsided contests, each of which lasted more than three-and-a-half hours and were decided by four runs or more. The Cyclones dropped two of three there, the start of a 3-10 slump that pushed Brooklyn below .500 for the first time since Opening Day.
Yet this dry spell also saw the start of one of the NYPL’s best pitching performances in recent memory. On July 5, in the middle game of what would be a sweep at the hands of Aberdeen, righthander Jaison Vilera hurled seven innings of two-run baseball, taking a hard-luck loss in a 2-1 contest. The 21-year-old allowed a two-run double to Ironbirds left fielder Doran Turchin in the fifth inning. It would be the only runs Vilera allowed in July.
The Cyclones’ turnaround moment came on Thursday, July 12, when the team looked for payback in a three-game set at Aberdeen. Brooklyn had lost the series opener the night prior, on the verge of dropping a fifth straight series. Around 4 p.m., Fonzie gathered his team in the visitors’ clubhouse for a midseason meeting, as much a pep talk as a reality check. Three hours later, the Cyclones went out and scored six runs—their most in 10 days—to snag a 6-0 win and return to .500. Who earned the victory and threw seven shutout innings? Jaison Vilera, of course.
That breakthrough evening sparked a run of four straight series wins, as the team took the final game at Aberdeen before grabbing two of three from Williamsport, Tri-City, and Lowell. Brooklyn stood at 20-16 as it approached its longest road trek, a six-game swing to Mahoning Valley and West Virginia. Brooklyn traveled 944 miles before returning to Coney Island but managed to go 3-3 over the six games. In the trip’s finale, a 7-1 Brooklyn win over West Virginia, Vilera spun seven shutout innings for his fourth straight win in his fourth straight scoreless start.
Three Days in Hudson Valley
The Cyclones were well-positioned for the postseason hunt on Aug. 5. They had nine games left against division-leading Hudson Valley over the final month of the season. Trailing the Renegades by 2.5 games, a sweep could’ve vaulted Brooklyn to the top of the division. In the opener, Brooklyn carried a 5-1 lead through the game’s midpoint, thanks to two-run home runs from Chase Chambers and Carlos Cortes. Yet, after allowing a first-inning run that snapped his scoreless streak at 29.1 innings, Vilera permitted three more in the bottom of the fifth. The score would remain 5-4 until the bottom of the ninth, when Hudson Valley plated two runs—the final one on a Yeudy Colon balk—to steal a 6-5, walk-off win.
The following night, it was more of the same. The Cyclones produced a three-run first inning and took a 5-4 lead into the ninth inning, but it would not hold up. Ryley Gilliam, the Mets’ 5th-round pick this year, gave up a two-run home run—his first runs allowed all season—to give Hudson Valley a second consecutive walk-off by a 6-5 margin. The series finale followed the same script, as Brooklyn scored two runs to jump ahead in the fourth before Ronald Sanchez allowed a walk-off single in the ninth inning to complete the improbable sweep.
Race for the Playoffs
With the Cyclones falling to 5.5 games out in the division, the season could have easily ended there. But the team returned home to rally for the biggest winning streak of the summer. Brooklyn, playing as Los Jefes (“The Bosses”) as part of Minor League Baseball’s Copa de la Diversion, welcomed Connecticut to town with a 13-6 thumping on Aug. 8. Over the next two nights, Los Jefes’ starting pitchers played up to their nickname, as Christian James hurled seven shutout innings and Kyle Wilson posted five no-hit innings with a team-high 10 strikeouts to clinch the series sweep. After a win at Lowell, two more against Vermont, and one at Hudson Valley, the end result was a season-saving, seven-game winning streak that extended past the league’s two-day All-Star break.
The Cyclones capitalized on their momentum by taking two of three from the Renegades, shrugging off another walk-off loss in the middle game. That rubber-game win on Aug. 19 hoisted Brooklyn into first place in the Wild Card and just 1 game behind Hudson Valley with two weeks to go in the season. It also improved the Cyclones to 34-26, their high-water mark at eight games above .500. But the team continued a difficult road-trip by traveling farther upstate to Tri-City, where Brooklyn lost all three games by three runs or fewer.
Retreating home with 12 games remaining, the season hung in the balance as Connecticut revisited MCU Park. The Cyclones conceded the opener—the only loss Brooklyn would suffer in nine games against the Tigers—but rebounded with a thunderous 12-1 victory the following night. In that Aug. 24 ballgame, Ross Adolph connected for his 10th and 11th triples of the season, vaulting into the league lead and becoming the first Cyclone to collect a pair of two-triple games in one season. On the mound, James produced the Cyclones’ best start of the season, scattering two hits over a career-high eight shutout innings.
With another one-sided win in the rubber game, Brooklyn vaulted to 36-30, 6 games above .500 and again atop the Wild Card. But one final adventure to Vermont followed, and, much like the June trek to Burlington, it was one to forget. Brooklyn dropped two of three, including a 10-9 defeat in 12 innings in which the Cyclones scored six first-inning runs.
Yet, thanks to similar struggles from Auburn and Staten Island, the Cyclones returned to Coney Island with a half-game lead in the Wild Card and only six games to play—three against Hudson Valley and three against Staten Island. In the opener on Aug. 29, the Cyclones topped the Renegades 4-2, thanks to a two-run moonshot from Anthony Dirocie and 5.1 scoreless, one-hit innings from the bullpen. Brooklyn was well-positioned over the next three days, with its top three starters—James, Wilson, and Vilera—scheduled to pitch. Despite that, the Cyclones dropped all three contests, combining to score four runs over the three-game losing streak that bumped the ballclub out of first place in the Wild Card.
By Sunday, Sept. 2, Brooklyn trailed in the Wild Card by 1.5 games with only two days left, its elimination number trimmed to one. On that day, everything went right. At Staten Island, the Cyclones pumped out three runs in the fourth inning, in part because of an Angel Manzanarez two-run double, to grab a 5-0 lead. After Staten Island answered for four runs, Tommy Wilson entered from the bullpen. The Mets’ 2018 19th-round selection snuffed out a comeback by working a career-high four shutout innings to preserve the 5-4 victory. Hundreds of miles away, Batavia hung on to beat Auburn, and Brooklyn was still alive.
That meant it all came down to the final day of the 2018 season. With Auburn leading but not yet final, Brooklyn began its 4 p.m. ballgame hoping for a chance. In the first inning, Ross Adolph slapped his 12th triple of the season, tying Darrell Ceciliani’s 2010 record for the most triples in a single season. He later scored to give Brooklyn a 1-0 lead. But at the start of Brooklyn’s 4th inning, Auburn sealed its victory over Batavia, ending the Cyclones’ season. Brooklyn did not concede, though, rallying from a 2-1 deficit to send the contest to extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th inning, after Staten Island had taken a 4-3 lead, Hayden Senger earned a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, which L.A. Woodard followed with a walk to send the Cyclones into a walk-off celebration.
Jaison Vilera was, quite simply, the crème de la crème in the New York-Penn League. The Caracas, Venezuela native claimed the league’s top spot in earned run average (1.83), strikeouts (78), WHIP (0.98), and batting average against (.191), not to mention his 29.1 consecutive scoreless innings streak. The NYPL All-Star’s miniscule 1.83 ERA also ranked second-best among qualifying pitchers in the entire Mets organization. What topped it? The 1.68 ERA owned by NL Cy Young candidate Jacob DeGrom.
Brooklyn’s bullpen boasted a 3.17 ERA, which, as a unit, would’ve ranked second-best on the team ERA leaderboard. Set-up man Billy Oxford made a league-high 26 appearances and led all NYPL pitchers—starters included—with eight wins, the most victories a Cyclones reliever has recorded in a single season. And with six 2018 draft picks—Ryley Gilliam, Adam Hill, Tylor Megill, Andrew Mitchell, Kevin Smith, and Tommy Wilson—in Brooklyn’s bullpen, the Mets’ future shone brightly, as the first-year pros combined for a 1.92 ERA.
Ross Adolph flashed all five tools throughout his summer on Coney Island. The University of Toledo product finished with a .276/.348/.509 slash line and a team-best .857 OPS. He led Brooklyn with seven home runs and 14 stolen bases, both among the league’s top 10. The Mets’ 2018 12th-rounder also recorded five outfield assists and was errorless in 109 total chances. But, most of all, Adolph had a knack for knocking a triple or two. The 2018 NYPL All-Star Game MVP tied Brooklyn’s single-season triples record with 12 of his own, and he became the first Cyclone with a pair of two-triple games in one season, achieving both feats against Connecticut.
Walter Rasquin resumed his assault on the franchise’s record book in his second season as a Cyclone. Last year, it was Angel Pagan’s single-season stolen-base record of 30, which Rasquin bested with 32 swipes. This time, Rasquin toppled the 11-year big-leaguer’s career record of 33, snagging his 34th stolen base on July 14 against Williamsport en route to 40 career steals. With a double in each of his final two games, the 22-year-old also became the first Cyclone with 30 doubles in his career. To top it off, Rasquin tied Joe Holden’s career record of 64 runs scored.
The Brooklyn Cyclones were one of the best all-around teams in the New York-Penn League this season. All it takes is one look through the league leaderboards to confirm it.
The Cyclones were the only NYPL ballclub to finish among the top three in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, earned run average, WHIP, and fielding percentage. They scored the most runs in the league and allowed the second-fewest, too.
Although the 2018 Cyclones fell a half-game short of the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2012, they restored the winning culture to an organization that has a history of success. Achieving Brooklyn’s 13th 40-win season in 18 years is emblematic of that.
Soon enough, it will be time again for the Cyclones to sprint onto the field at MCU Park, ready to entertain the masses with a home run or a strikeout. There will be a new cast of characters to meet, more dramatic moments to witness, and a postseason berth to chase.
But, for now, the excitement of a 40-win season will be enough to sustain a baseball-crazed borough through the winter months, waiting for another summer of Brooklyn Cyclones baseball.