Twenty-five years ago, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons stepped on the field for the first time. In honor of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise’s 25th year anniversary, The Times Leader is counting down the Top 25 memorable moments in its history every week until the end of the season. All three teams — Red Barons, Yankees and RailRiders — are represented on the list as put together by the staff of The Times Leader. There’s sure to be some debate here as well, which makes it that much more fun.
The 2001 season might be considered by some as the season that ended with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s first Governors’ Cup championship.
However, in the record books, the campaign goes down as one of the franchise’s four runner-up finishes for the International League title.
That’s because the championship series between the Red Barons and Louisville RiverBats started on September, 10, 2001 with Louisville winning the opening game of the series 2-1. Everyone knows what happened the next day.
And so, the terror attacks not only caused the major professional sports to go on hold, it also canceled all of the minor league playoffs, including the I.L. championship. Louisville was declared the winner holding a 1-0 series lead.
Soon after league president Randy Mobley declared the RiverBats the champs, the Red Barons were expected to file a protest because in other minor league title series’ where a team held a 1-0 advantage, both teams were crowned co-champions. The Pacific Coast League and the New York-Penn League were two leagues with co-champs in 2001.
“It’s a difficult decision to accept,” SWB team MVP P.J. Forbes said at the time. “We put in six months to get to this point and overcame several setbacks, but I realize it’s a double-edged sword. Everything that happened in the last day and a half has left everybody stunned.”
One of the reasons the Red Barons had been upset is because of the way they advanced to the championship series. The Barons started the 2001 season with a terrible May. The team’s 11-19 mark in the month was so bad that only two other seasons in franchise history had been worse.
SWB had a remarkable turnaround, which included a record of 20-8 in July with a .714 winning percentage that is the second-best of any month throughout the last 25 years by the franchise.
After that, the Red Barons still had to wait until the final day of the regular season to clinch the league’s wild card and advance to the playoffs for the third straight season. Then came the series-clinching victory against Buffalo in the first round when the Bisons and Barons played a then-franchise-record 19 innings and 5 hours, 13 minutes when Jason Knupfer helped the Barons to a 6-2 win with a two-run triple in the top of the 19th.
The regular season consisted of one of the best pitching performances in SWB history when Brandon Duckworth had 13 wins and a 2.63 ERA to lead the I.L. in both categories despite spending most of the last two months in Philadelphia. Duckworth also picked up the I.L. Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Pitcher awards.