Despite finishing the regular season 13 games below the .500 mark, the Gwinnett Braves have proven that anything can happen if you can get to the playoffs. The Columbus Clippers, 82-62 in the regular season, were victims of a Braves club on a mission as they were eliminated from the postseason with a 5-4 loss on Saturday night.
The Clippers season came to an end after losing three of four games in the International League semifinals. The Braves will now advance to the Governors’ Cup Finals against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which swept Lehigh Valley in three games.
Columbus actually held a 3-0 lead, but gave up four runs in the middle innings. They were able to tie it up late, but Gwinnett responded with the go-ahead run in their final at bats.
Yandy Diaz started the game for the Clippers with a double to right. He moved to third on an error on the throw in and would score two batters later as Giovanny Urshela singled him home.
Bradley Zimmer started the second with a one-out single to center before Joey Butler flied out. The rally then started as Collin Cowgill walked and Diaz singled, driving home Zimmer to make it a two-run lead. Yhoxian Medina singled safely to third, scoring Cowgill to give Columbus a nice early lead. They missed a chance for more, as Urshela walked to load the bases but Jesus Aguilar grounded to short to leave them loaded.
Clippers’ starter Toru Murata loaded the bases in the second with nobody out, giving up back-to-back singles to Blake Lalli and Sean Kazmar before walking Rio Ruiz. The veteran struck out a pair and got a fly out to get out of a big jam, but was not as lucky in the third. Emilio Bonifacio walked to start the inning and moved to second on a one-out single by Ronnier Mustelier. Lalli singled to center to score Bonifacio to make it a 3-1 game. Kazmar followed with his own single up the middle, plating Mustelier to cut the deficit to one. Murata retired the next two unharmed, getting a force out and a grounder to short to strand a pair.
Gwinnett tied it in the fourth with more two-out hitting. Kyle Kubitza reached on a double with one down. One out later, Mel Rojas Jr. tied the game with a single to right, scoring Kubitza. Rojas Jr. would reach third after a single from Mustelier, but Lalli grounded out to end the inning.
After double play balls in the fourth and fifth squandered opportunities for the Clippers, the Braves made it all the more painful in the bottom of the fifth when Kazmar homered to left-center to lead off the inning against Murata, making it a 4-3 Gwinnett lead. The Columbus starter would not last the inning, getting a pair of outs before Nick Maronde came on in relief.
The score would remain the same until the eighth, when the quiet Columbus offense woke up with big extra base hits. Urshela doubled to start the inning against reliever Stephen Janas and scored on a one-out double from Michael Choice to tie the game at four. The Clippers would load the bases on a single from Guillermo Quiroz and a two-out walk from Butler, but Cowgill grounded to first to waste a big threat.
Jeff Johnson returned for a second inning of work in the bottom of the eighth, when the Braves reclaimed the lead. Rojas Jr. walked and went to third on an error by Cowgill on a Mustelier single. Lalli lifted a sacrifice fly to left, scoring the go-ahead runner from third. Tyler Olson would come out of the ‘pen and keep the score at one, but the damage was done.
Bradley Roney took the mound for the Braves in the ninth, striking out Diaz swinging before getting grounders to short from Medina and Urshela to clinch the 5-4 win and a trip to the Governors’ Cup.
Johnson took the loss for the Clippers with the unearned run charged to him after Cowgill’s error in right. Gwinnett’s Madison Younginer got the win and Roney the save.
Diaz and Urshela each had two hits (a single and a double), scored a run, and drove in a run for the Clippers. Second baseman Kazmar was 4-for-4 for the Braves with a homer, three singles, one run scored, and two runs batted in.
The loss from Coolray Field for the Clippers ended their defense of last season’s Governors’ Cup victory.
Photo: Karl L. Moore/MiLB.com