There was cheering in the Portland Sea Dogs clubhouse earlier this month when Manager Corey Wimberly relayed the announcement that there would be minor league playoffs after all.

“We were all stoked about it,” shortstop Ryan Fitzgerald said. “Hopefully, we can get into the playoffs and play for something.”

Fitzgerald is doing his part. His two-run homer helped the Sea Dogs to a 7-5 comeback win over the Hartford Yard Goats on Sunday afternoon before 5,397 at Hadlock Field.

The Sea Dogs (34-23) extended their winning streak to seven games, while completing a six-game series sweep of the last-place Yard Goats (18-41).

Down 5-1 early, Portland rallied. Fitzgerald’s blast to right field tied it in the seventh inning. Five batters later, Triston Casas lined a two-out, two-run single to center.

“We come from behind a lot,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve got guys who can hit. And the pitchers did well.”


This team has the look of a contender and currently has the second-best record in the Double-A Northeast League, three games behind Somerset (38-21) in the Northeast Division. Initially, there were not going to be minor league playoffs this season, but Major League Baseball recently announced that the top two teams in the Double A and Class A leagues will be in the playoffs.

“That brought a little energy into the clubhouse,” Wimberly said.

Portland has not been to the playoffs since 2014.

The Sea Dogs’ quest for their first series sweep of the season looked in trouble when starter Josh Winckowski could not get out of the first inning. With two runners on and two outs, Elehuris Montero – a top Rockies prospect – fouled off four pitches in an eight-pitch at-bat, then hit an RBI single up the middle.

Willie Abreu followed with a two-run double. Winckowski hit the next batter and was pulled, his pitch count reaching 31.

Denyi Reyes relieved and was an unsung standout for the Sea Dogs, striking out eight in four innings. He did allow a two-run homer by Abreu in the third.


Portland closed to 5-3 heading into the seventh. Durbin Feltman (5-0) pitched a 1-2-3 inning for the Sea Dogs.

Hartford brought in lefty reliever Yoan Aybar (1-6). Aybar had been with the Red Sox since he signed with them in 2014, when he was 16. Boston traded Aybar to the Rockies in the offseason.

Roldani Baldwin led off the seventh with a single, and the left-handed hitting Fitzgerald connected with a first-pitch 95 mph fastball, sending it 391 feet.

“Aybar had been in our organization for a while,” Fitzgerald said. “I know he has a good fastball, and I was just trying to be on time for it.”

Familiarity with Aybar also helped Casas, who came up with two outs and runners on second and third.

“I’ve known Aybar for a couple of years, and faced him a couple of times this season,” Casas said. “He’s gotten me out with sliders late in the count.

“I had a feeling he might turn to his (slider) again since he didn’t seem to have a feel for his fastball. The 1-0 pitch, he threw me a slider and I fouled it into our dugout, and I felt like I had a good swing on that. When he threw me another on 2-and-1, I felt my timing was there and I took a whack, and fortunately it landed in the outfield.”

Seth Blair finished off the ninth for his second save.

NOTES: Red Sox Manager Alex Cora said Chris Sale’s first rehab start will be in Florida on Thursday. If he is to have a second rehab start the following week, Portland could be his destination. The Sea Dogs are home that week, while Triple-A Worcester is on the road. … Fitzgerald had quite a series, going 8 for 19 (.421) with a double, a triple, a home run, five walks, seven runs and four RBI. … Second baseman Tanner Nishioka knocked in the first two Portland runs with a sacrifice fly in the third and a single in the fifth.

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