Miners Miss Playoffs by a Nose - Sussex County Miners
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Miners Miss Playoffs by a Nose

Miners Miss Playoffs by a Nose

One or two hits in May or June… A walk instead of a strikeout in July… A putout instead of an error in August… A one-run win instead of a one-run loss one routine night at home… A round-tripper instead of a long foul ball one routine night on the road.

     None of those events made headlines at the time, but now, each one of them is excruciating to recall as each one contributed to the Miners finishing in fourth place in the final standings of the Frontier League’s 2022 East Division pennant race. A hit here or there… A bounce of the ball here or there… That’s what it all came down to.

     Third place would have meant a postseason playoff spot, where anything would have been possible. But, no, that opportunity went to the Ottawa Titans, who wound up 56-39 and 5½ games behind first-place Quebec, while the Miners finished 54-41 and 7½ games out.

     Even more excruciating than all those what-ifs from early and midseason were the last two weeks, since the Miners were all alone in second place on Aug. 25, riding a five-game winning streak and going 8-2 over their past 10 games. Ottawa was two games behind the Miners and the New York Boulders were a half-game behind Ottawa.

     But, Ottawa would go 9-1 over the final two weeks, including a 2-1 series victory over Quebec in the closing weekend, and New York would post a 12-game winning streak to climb from fifth place to a second-place finish.

     Meanwhile, Sussex County followed an Aug. 25 win over the Empire State Greys with a 2-1 series loss at Quebec, then a 2-1 series loss at Tri-City. That left the Miners on the verge of elimination, but still clinging to hope last Friday night as they hosted the New Jersey Jackals for a three-game series to conclude the season. They would need help elsewhere, but the Miners could still make the playoffs. First, they would have to sweep the Jackals – or, at the very least take two of three and get a ton of help and good luck – to have any chance for the math to work their way in the standings.

    However, that’s when a young man name Jorge Tavarez pitched the game of his life for New Jersey. The 5-foot-10, 150-pound righty tossed a nine-inning no-hitter, striking out 16 Miners to win the game and end the last remaining Sussex hopes for a miracle ending that would send them to the postseason. A 27-year old from the Dominican Republic, Tavarez issued six walks, including four in a row to hand the Miners their one run in the 7-1 game. Despite his modest record (9-4) and modest ERA (4.58), Tavarez wound up leading the league with 142 Ks.

     The Friday night loss left the Miners 53-41 (.563). New York won on Friday night to become 55-38 (.591) and Ottawa won on Friday night to become an identical 55-38 (.591). That meant that the Miners were eliminated from the playoff race. 

     Even if the Miners won on both Saturday and Sunday, they would finish 55-41 (.572). And, even if New York or Ottawa lost on both Saturday and Sunday, they would finish 55-40 (.578). The fact that New York or Ottawa would complete the year having played 95 games compared to the Miners having played 96 would not have mattered. Those won-loss quirks sometimes happen in baseball because of rainouts that just couldn’t be made up due to travel and schedules. In fact, only eight of the league’s 16 teams played all 96 games this year; seven teams played 95 and one team played 94.

     Out of playoff contention, the Miners won on Saturday night to become 54-41 (.568). New York won, too, to become 56-38 (.595) and hold second place. Ottawa lost on Saturday to become 55-39 (.585).

     With no bearing on the rest of the league, the Miners and Jackals called off what would have been the final game on the schedule this past Sunday. Meanwhile, New York won on Sunday to finish 57-38 (.600) and clinch second place, while Ottawa won on Sunday to finish 56-39 (.589) for third place.

     Second-place New York will now host third-place Ottawa on Wed. night, Sept. 7 in a one-game wild-card showdown for the right to play a best-of-3 series against first-place Quebec for the East Division pennant. The winner of the East will then face the West Division winner in a best-of-5 for the league championship.

One Steal Short of Record

    All year long, the Miners were taking aim at the league record of 204 stolen bases in a season. But, a late-season slowdown in production proved costly, and the team finished with a final total of 203. Sussex was far ahead of the No. 2 team in steals, as the Windy City ThunderBolts had 165. Second-best in the East Division was Ottawa with 115. 

     Nilo Rijo and Jawuan Harris led the team with 34 steals apiece, tied for third best in the league. Harris was on the injured list from July 16 to Aug. 4. Martin Figueroa added 24 steals to the total; Errol Robinson had 22, but left the Miners on July 21 to sign a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. Mikey Reynolds had 21 steals until he went on the injured list for the remainder of the season on Aug. 18.

     The Miners also led the league with 448 walks. The Schaumbug were second best with 442 and New York was No. 2 in the East Division with 409.

By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.