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Last updated: February 16. 2013 7:48PM - 342 Views

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ALLENTOWN -- Something seemed strange.


Runners were reaching scoring position for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's leading RBI guy, and suddenly, he was stranding them there.


Until it really counted.


That's when Brandon Laird picked up his intensity, and pulled the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees to the brink of a division title.


Laird socked a go-ahead, two-run single in the top of the seventh inning Sunday, then scored in the ninth inning as the Yankees put away a 6-2 victory over Lehigh Valley with a three-run ninth inning.


"First two at-bats I was kind of frustrated," Laird said.


But he left Lehigh Valley livid in the clutch.


With the Yankees down a run with two outs and runners at second and third in the seventh, Laird lined an 0-2 pitch into center field for a 3-2 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre lead.


"I knew I could probably come up with a big opportunity," said Laird, who drove home his 86th and 87th runs of the season with his go-ahead blow. "I shortened my swing and just tried to make contact."


He helped make his team's road to the postseason much easier.


The victory reduced Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's magic number for clinching the International League North Division to two, meaning the Yankees can celebrate a division title with another victory over Lehigh Valley as soon as today.


"You always like to be in the hunt," SWB Yankees manager Dave Miley said. "We've still got a ways to go. We've got to clinch it first of all."


What the 80-57 Yankees clinched Sunday was a sense of relief.


A day after having their nine-game winning streak snapped with a 9-5 loss to Lehigh Valley, the Yankees rebounded nicely.


They were locked in a tight battle througout, until IronPigs left fielder Michael Spidale gambled and lost by charging Melky Mesa's sinking liner that turned into a two-run triple in the ninth inning. Kosuke Fukudome followed with an RBI double, and suddenly, a one-run game turned into a comfortable 6-2 lead for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.


"Laird got a big hit, makes a whole lot of difference," Miley said. "Fukudome and Mesa came up with some big hits, too."


But the bulk of Sunday's victory was built around pitching.


Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starter Justin Thomas was tagged for Hector Luna's game-tying homer in the fourth inning and a sacrifice fly by Andres Blanco in the fifth.


But Thomas didn't allow anything else, and improved his Scranton/Wilkes-Barre record to 2-1 by sticking around for seven innings for the first time in a game since throwing a complete game in 2008 pitching in Double-A ball in the Seattle organization.


"Justin Thomas was the key for us," Miley said. "He's done well for us. The most he's gone for us was six (innings). It was an extra step."


Laird helped lift him and the Yankees over the top.


With two men on, Laird flied out in the second inning and left Francisco Cervelli standing on second when he was called out on strikes in the sixth.


But Fukodome singled home Ronnier Mustelier later in the second inning, Thomas buckled down to keep the Yankees close in a 2-1 game into the seventh, then Laird laced his single that brought home Corban Joseph and Mustelier with a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre lead in the seventh.


"We're playing real good right now. We pick each other up," Laird said. "Everybody's pitching well, everybody's hitting one through nine."


Now they'll hit the field at Coca-Cola Park at 7:05 p.m. tonight looking to wrap up a division title, as Adam Warren (7-8, 3.64 ERA) takes the mound for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre against Lehigh Valley's Tom Cochran (8-5, 4.15 ERA).


"That's what your goal is," Miley said, "to try to get to the postseason."


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