Cutters win home finale

Justin Parr stood in the on-deck circle, his bat had fallen to the ground as he raised both his hands toward the sky. He casually flipped off his batting helmet and began walking toward home plate to join his teammates for the best celebration of the season.

Malquin Canelo rounded third, his smile stretching wider than his face as he slapped both his batting glove-covered hands against manager Nelson Prada’s. When Canelo finally touched home plate Sunday after hitting a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning for a 3-2 Williamsport win, he was engulfed in a sea of players who bounced up and down, celebrating like they had just clinched a playoff spot.

This Crosscutters team isn’t going to the playoffs, but they’ve played the last week with a purpose despite being eliminated from postseason contention a week ago. Sunday’s win in the final game at Bowman Field for the 2013 season dealt a significant blow to Jamestown’s playoff chances.

It’s a consolation prize, yes, but playing the role of spoiler has driven Williamsport to play some of its best baseball of the year with just three games remaining. It’s helped drive a player like Canelo, an 18-year-old Dominican native, to push his batting average from .165 to .221. It helped drive him last night to that 10th-inning home run, the first of his career, which sent a team still playing with a purpose into a frenzy.

On a day where the Crosscutters paid homage to their supportive crowd on Fan Appreciation Day, the team provided a jubilant ending to the more than 2,100 fans in attendance.

“I was thinking going into the game, we have to have one of the best games of the season because it’s our last one at home. So give it everything you’ve got,” Cutters right fielder Dylan Cozens said. “I’m really happy it ended up the way it did. There’s no better way to end your home schedule than the way (Canelo) did it.”

On a team which leads the New York-Penn League in home runs and set a new Crosscutters single-season record for team home runs, it was one of the most unlikely of characters Sunday, the one who had never hit a professional home run, who concluded another summer at Bowman Field in dramatic fashion while simultaneously dealing a near-knockout blow to Jamestown.

Williamsport’s win clinched the first-ever Pinckney Division championship for State College. It also left the Jammers fighting to keep their head above water in the Wild Card race, staying just one game ahead of Lowell.

“After 70 games, our guys are playing better,” Cutters manager Nelson Prada said. “I think a lot of the teams out of the race now are ready to go home. We’re ready to go play three more.”

Count Canelo as one of those ready to keep playing. He was sent to Williamsport in late June from the Gulf Coast League, one of the dominoes which tumbled after former Crosscutter Roman Quinn broke his wrist when he was hit by a pitch playing for Lakewood.

Canelo was an all-glove, no-bat kind of player when he showed up. He was the youngest player thrust into an already young lineup, there to play Gold Glove defense while anything he achieved offensively would be nothing more than a sweet bonus.

He’s changed that perception in the last three weeks. He’s all of a sudden a player getting noticed in Phillies minor league circles for his complete game. He’s hitting .378 since his batting average hit a season low of .165 following an Aug. 11 game against Vermont. He’s hit safely in 11 of 14 games since then.

It’s not a surprise, though, to the people who watch him every day. Prada has consistently told his bosses not to worry about Canelo’s batting average because it wasn’t a true representation of how he’s been hitting through the summer. His batting average on balls in play in July was just .238, meaning he was hitting into a lot of bad luck.

In August, his BABIP has improved to .309, and with it his batting average climbed a healthy 60 points. But who would have thought the 5-foot-10, 150-pound shortstop had enough pop in his bat to run into a walk-off home run like the one he hit Sunday?

That’s easy, just about everyone wearing a Crosscutters jersey.

“He hits home runs in (batting practice), surprisingly,” said Cozens, who hit his eighth home run of the season in the sixth inning Sunday. “You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but he’s got some pop.”

“This .220 for me is a solid .270 or .280 with just a little bit of luck,” Prada said. “Now baseball is rewarding him for all the hard contact all year.”

Canelo’s walk-off made a winner of pitcher Mark Meadors, whose Houdini act in the ninth inning allowed the Cutters to force extra innings. The right-handed sinkerballer wiggled out of a one-out jam with Jamestown runners on second and third by retiring a pair of left-handed hitters.

The first was Candon Myles who popped up to third baseman Zach Green on one pitch. Prada and pitching coach Les Lancaster then allowed Meadors to pitch to leadoff man Elvis Escobar instead of walking him to load the bases and pitch to right-hand hitting Harold Ramirez.

Meadors made the decision seem ingenious, striking out Escobar on three pitches. Meadors then retired the side in the 10th on seven pitches to bring Canelo to the plate.

“That was a tough situation with lefties back-to-back,” Prada said. “After the first out, we said if we load the bases, there’s a couple more ways they can win the game. And (Ramirez) was a better hitter than (Escobar). And now they have to get a hit to score, and statistics show that a two-out hit with runners on base is the hardest hit to get.”