from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at www.gsohoppers.com:
There’s no reason for any of the Greensboro Grasshoppers to remember actor John Houseman, who died more than 20 years ago.
One of his claims to fame was a series of commercials for a brokerage firm in the 1980s, with his intensely delivered tag line, “they make money the old-fashioned way, they earn it.”
Well, the Hoppers did Houseman proud this season. They made the SAL playoffs the old-fashioned way. They earned it.
With a little help from Hickory, the Hoppers could have gotten in the playoffs via the wild card. But when that didn’t happen, they were put in a position of having to win four of five games against Kannapolis on the Intimidators home field.
So they did, winning the last game 9-6 Monday in the 10th inning. No help from Hickory? No problem. That’s the way real competitors prefer to do it anyway.
They will begin the playoffs in NewBridge Bank Park Wednesday night at 7 o’clock, hosting the Hickory Crawdads in the opener of a best-of-3 series. After a day off Thursday, the teams resume play with game 2 in Hickory Friday and, if necessary, game 3 there Saturday.
Rett Varner will start Wednesday’s game for Greensboro, followed by James Leverton Friday and Kyle Winters Saturday.
Savannah and Augusta will determine the Southern Division champion (Augusta won the second-half title by percentage points). The two division champs will play a best-of-5 series for the SAL title starting next week.
The Hoppers fashioned a remarkable surge in the last 25 games of the season. When they began a home stand on Aug. 10, they were 20-24 in the second half and in fifth place in the Northern Division, trailing Hagerstown and Lakewood in addition to Kannapolis and Hickory.
Here’s what I wrote in a blog posted that day: “If the Hoppers can get to 40 wins … they have a shot at the playoffs. To do that, they need to win 20 of their final 26 games. Daunting, but not impossible.”
Well, they lost a game to a rainout, so they only played 25 more. They went 19-6 in that stretch and finished with 39 wins, which was just enough. I had the formula just right.
The Hoppers pulled it off with a consummate team performance. Every member of the 25-man roster made a significant contribution to the winning of a game along the way. Batters got clutch hits. Starting pitchers found their missing consistency. The bullpen was sterling nearly every time out. Reserves came through in their opportunities.
The Hoppers did it with late-inning dramatics and the stamina required to pull out a win in 19 innings. And, of course, they took it to the wire in the final game. They broke on top 5-1, watched Kannapolis pull within 6-5 and then tie the game in the bottom of the ninth with two outs.
Instead of having the wind taken out of their sails, the Hoppers went right to work in the top of the 10th. Noah Perio smacked a one-out double and scored on Marcell Ozuna’s single. With two outs, J.T. Realmuto’s double added two huge insurance runs.
Jordan Conley, who had pitched poorly earlier in the series, came on in the bottom of the 10th, gave up a hit, then struck out the side to nail it down.
Now that’s the way to earn your way into the playoffs.