MOOSIC — Tyler Wade joked with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre hitting coach P.J. Pilittere Friday night that he was sort of glad that Lehigh Valley beat Pawtucket to prevent the RailRiders from clinching a spot in the Governor’s Cup playoffs.
He wanted to enjoy the celebration, too.
All the RailRiders needed to do was win Saturday against the Syracuse Chiefs, and they’d be in. They did just that, with Wade leading the way.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre got ahead early and never looked back en route to a 7-1 win over the Chiefs. Wade, who was optioned to the RailRiders on Friday, homered and made a handful of plays at short.
“That was fun. I came into here knowing that if we won we were going to clinch,” Wade said. “Came in here like any other game. Yeah, it was fun.
“It just speaks to the kind of guys we have in the clubhouse. Everyone has each other’s back, everyone wants to win. It’s always a good time coming to the baseball field.”
Jake Cave called last year’s run to the Triple-A National Championship crown some of the best few weeks of his life.
That end goal of repeating as Triple-A National Champions Sept. 19, on the home turf of PNC Field, is what’s driving him and the rest of the RailRiders as the regular season enters the final week. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre took one step closer reliving the success of last season.
“We’ve already played this far. It’s a long season, it’s a grind, but we’re this far and we’re already in first so we might as well win it,” Cave said. “From clinching a playoff (spot) and partying with the guys, and then going and clinching the division and partying with guys, and then winning the first playoff series and partying with the guys. And then the (Governor’s) Cup, which was awesome being able to get a ring, and then going to Memphis and everybody was like, ‘Oh, we’re just going to have some fun,’ and then winning it and partying with the guys.
“It was some of the funnest few weeks of my life. I’d love to do it again.”
After falling behind 1-0 after an inning of play, the RailRiders responded with a 7-0 run thanks in large part to a four-run fifth inning.
Wade led off the inning with a solo homer to the hill in right field. Then a Jake Cave single and Ji-Man Choi walk later, Donovan Solano did his damage with a three-run blast into the RailRiders’ bullpen. Solano was 2 for 4 with a double, home run and four RBI.
“It’s always nice to see, every night have a different hero,” RailRiders manager Al Pedrique said. “I’m glad these guys, who have been in the game long enough, they know how to act and play this game under pressure knowing it was a big game for us going into the playoffs. So I’m happy for Choi and Solano — the whole team.”
RailRiders starter Chance Adams took the mound with the chance to clinch a spot in the playoffs for the first time in his career. He didn’t let the bright lights get to him.
The 22-year-old right-hander pitched six innings of one-run baseball. While it wasn’t his sharpest night, giving up seven hits and two walks while striking out a pair, he got the job done.
“It’s awesome. It’s definitely a great feeling and I couldn’t have done it with a better group of guys,” Adams said. “I just went out and tried to throw strikes. My defense great plays behind me, my offense was there supporting me. It was a good night.”
At this point in the season, almost half of the current roster didn’t play a single inning with the RailRiders last year, let alone play for them in the postseason.
So when new players come into the clubhouse, which has happened often this season with the team having made 282 roster moves already, players like Cave are eager to take them under their wings. It’s clubhouse leaders like Cave, Solano, Eddy Rodriguez and Cito Culver that have helped build a strong foundation in the locker room.
It helps that they keep it loose, too.
“The guy next to you that just came up, if it’s a younger guy, you have to tell them, ‘Hey, it’s like we say — for the Cup,’ ” Cave said. “We kind of mess with guys when they come up here or come down and stuff like that but then come to find out guys love it and guys have fun. I feel like — obviously he wasn’t a RailRider — but (Starlin) Castro, when he was here he actually seemed like he had a really good time being around us. It’s fun team to play for.”
Pedrique made it clear that the RailRiders weren’t done after Saturday’s win.
In fact, the RailRiders can secure their third straight International League North Division title on Sunday with a win over Syracuse and a Rochester loss. From there it’s the playoffs and a run at the Governor’s Cup and Triple-A National Championship.
“We want it real bad. This is the beginning,” Pedrique said. “Clinching a playoff spot is nice, but we still have a long way to go.
“I told them, ‘We have to go now after the division and go from there.’”
RailRiders 7, Syracuse 1
OA: Cave; DP: Chiefs 0, RailRiders 3; LOB: Chiefs 6, RailRiders 6; 2B: Huffman (5), Solano (27), Choi (19), Payton (14); 3B: Williams (3); HR: Wade (7), Solano (4).
Long (L, 4-5)`4.2`9`7`7`1`6
C. Adams (W, 11-4)`6.0`7`1`1`2`2
HBP: Choi (by Long).
Umpires: James Rackley, HP; Charlie Ramos, 1B; Mike Cerra, 3B.
Time: 2:27; Att.: 8,222.