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Brooklyn boys come on strong

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Following a season that saw them ride a hot start to the New York-Penn League’s McNamara Division title, the Brooklyn Cyclones have come out strong again in 2008.

With a 4-2 record as of Monday, the ‘Clones are in a familiar predicament: first place.

Brooklyn’s 2008 season began at Keyspan Park against their cross-Verrazano Bridge rival Staten Island Yankees.

As it was many times in 2007, Cyclones pitching was the story of the day.

Pedro P. Martinez, Jimmy Johnson and Wendy Rosa twirled eight innings of one-run ball. Their effort was preserved by hard-throwing closer Yuri Santana, a converted shortstop who recorded the first of his three saves for the week.

Much of the Cyclones offense came courtesy of third baseman Zach Lutz, who stroked a first inning RBI double to put the ‘Clones up 1-0 before driving in a run in the fifth with an RBI groundout.

Opening Day of 2008 was sweet redemption for Lutz, who suffered a stress fracture on his foot during the 2007 opener that would sideline him all season.

With a win under their belt, the ‘Clones headed to Staten Island’s Richmond County Bank Park, a stately venue on New York Harbor to match the Cyclones’ carnival-esque park on the ocean.

With the score tied at 1 going into the fifth inning, the Cyclones notched two no-out singles to start the inning before benefiting from a meltdown by Yankees reliever Jake Schaeffer, who came into the game and proceeded to walk two batters and hit two more before being mercifully removed.

By that point, the ‘Clones were on their way to a five running inning, giving them a comfortable margin they would not relinquish en route to a 9-4 win.

Back in Brooklyn the next night, the ‘Clones succumbed for the first time, dropping a 7-2 decision to the Yankees.

The game would have been uneventful if not for one of the oddest sequences of events imaginable on a baseball field.

In the bottom of the ninth inning with the Yankees comfortably ahead 7-2, the Yankees called on pitcher Pat Venditte, a 45th round draft pick out of Creighton University, to seal the deal.

The 22-year-old Venditte looks the part of a typical major league aspirant. Until one notices his glove, an odd-looking contraption which, upon closer inspection, can be worn on both the right and left hands.

Venditte, it turns out, is ambidextrous, a switch-pitcher who throws from either side of the plate depending on which side the hitter sets up.

So when Brooklyn catcher Ralph Henriquez, a switch hitter, stepped up to the plate, the stage for the bizarre, comedic encounter was set: Both pitcher and batter, seeking the advantage, switched their orientation multiple times. After a few minutes of discussion and consultation with the baseball rulebook, the umpires ruled that Henriquez would bat right handed while Venditte pitched right-handed.

Venditte then struck Henriquez out to end the game.

The comic relief took some of the sting off the Cyclones first loss of the season and the subsequent trip down to Aberdeen, Md., where Brooklyn took on the IronBirds for a three-game set beginning Friday.

But six innings into the game, the Cyclones bats hadn’t gotten off the bus, as the IronBirds took a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning.

But Eric Campbell, a hulking third baseman from Boston College drafted in the eighth round this year, shook Brooklyn out of its stupor with a thunderous double off the top of the wall, which many said should have been called a home run.

John Servidio, a recent 26th round draft pick, followed by turning a high-and-tight fastball around for a 2-run, game-tying homer.

The ‘Clones were alive and well. The next inning, the hot-hitting Lutz singled home shortstop Matt Bouchard to give Brooklyn the lead, which was made to stand up by scoreless innings from Wendy Rosa and Yury Santana.

Perhaps the fatigue of the long bus trip caught up the Cyclones the next night when they managed only a run and four hits in a 3-1 loss.

Despite taking the loss, Brooklyn starter Brad Holt flashed the dominant form that made him the 33rd overall pick in this year’s draft, striking out the first three batters he faced while throwing mid-90s heat.

The rubber game in Aberdeen was a taut, tense affair that saw the Cyclones claw their way back from two deficits to take the game in to extra innings.

Smooth-swinging first-baseman Jeffries Tatford broke the deadlock in the top of the tenth by serving a tie-breaking single to left field.

The ‘Clones scored once more in the inning to take a 4-2 lead, which Santana nailed down in the ninth by striking out the side after a leadoff walk.

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