06 Sep End of the Road
In a different universe and if the stars had lined up differently, maybe Jorge Tavarez would be pitching today for the New York Yankees. Or maybe the New York Mets. Or the White Sox or the Twins or the Cardinals.
Instead, he’s pitching for the New Jersey Jackals. And he’s a monster, especially when he faces the Miners.
On Tuesday night at Skylands Stadium, he did it again. The 28-year-old righthander did his thing and completely overpowered the Miners, tossing a complete-game three-hit shutout – a 5-0 wild card playoff victory that sent the Miners home for the winter and lifted the Jackals to the Frontier League’s East Division best-of-three pennant series against the Quebec Capitales beginning on Thursday.
Brilliant. Flawless. Masterful. Pick your adjective and Tavarez was there. He scattered three meaningless singles while striking out 10 and walking one, facing just 30 batters in a totally one-sided game that flew by in two hours and 11 minutes.
It had to remind Miners fans of a similar night in Augusta almost exactly one year ago, when the wiry 5-foot-10, 150-pounder walked into Skylands and tossed a complete-game no-hitter to knock Sussex out of the playoff race in the last weekend of the regular season.
Or, it might have refreshed a more recent memory when Tavarez threw a one-hitter with eight Ks and no walks to beat the Miners, 1-0, in the first game of a doubleheader Aug. 1 at Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson. That was the only time the Miners saw him this year as he was inactive for the first 10 weeks of the season due to a visa issue back home in the Dominican Republic.
When he finally returned to the field, he picked up right where he left off last year, when he led the league in strikeouts. In his first outing of 2023 on July 19, he gave up one run in six innings to beat the Florence Y’Alls, striking out seven with no walks. Six days later, he went nine innings to shut out the Washington Wild Things, yielding just three singles, striking out eight with no walks, facing 29 batters with a mere 88 pitches in a fast-motion two hours and four minutes.
Tuesday night at Skylands, Tavarez had his first strikeout of the game while the last notes of the national anthem were still floating in the unseasonably warm September sky. In a blink, he struck out the side in the first inning, then he did it again in the second inning – three more batters, three more strikeouts. Clearly, the Miners were in for a long (albeit quick) night.
Johnny Hipsman led off the third inning with the Miners’ first base hit, but a 5-4-3 double play doused any hopes of denting Tavarez. Trailing, 3-0, in the fourth, Willie Escala came up with a one-out hit and then stole second base. But, again, Tavarez buckled down and got a strikeout and a ground out. Gavin Stupienski led off the fifth inning with a hit, but a fly out, a fielder’s choice and Tavarez’s ninth K of the night wrapped up the Sussex offense.
Tavarez would issue his only walk of the game to Stupienski with two out in the seventh, but that was it for Miners on the basepaths. The Jackals pitcher was both wily and efficient, taking care of nine innings of business with 109 pitches. After an abbreviated 6-1 season with a 2.25 ERA, Tavarez is now 1-0 in the postseason with no indication at all of slowing down. He was first signed by the Los Angeles Angels as a 19-year-old in Loma de Cabrera and spent five seasons playing in the Angels farm system, jumping to the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League in 2021 and coming to the Jackals in 2022, when he was 9-4 with a 4.58 ERA and leading the league with 142 strikeouts.
The Jackals took a 2-0 lead Tuesday night with a walk and three singles in the second inning, then made it 3-0 in the third with two singles and a double play that scored the run. With two outs in the fifth, New Jersey expanded to 5-0 with a double, a run-scoring error and a home run by Keon Barnum, who tied with teammate James Nelson for the league lead in homers.
As for the Miners, they finished the regular season with a record of 55-40, exactly the same as the Tri-City ValleyCats and tied for third place in the final East Division standings. They earned the third and final postseason spot and the wild card opportunity against the Jackals, by holding a 7-2 season series advantage over Tri-City.
By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.
photo by Phil Hoops