MANCHESTER — There was much debate leading into the Eastern League Eastern Division Championship series: Which was better, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ offense or the Trenton Thunder’s pitching?
New Hampshire has put that argument to rest in decisive fashion.
The Fisher Cats on Thursday muscled the ball around Northeast Delta Dental Stadium for a second consecutive night on the way to 10-4 win over the Thunder. New Hampshire outscored Trenton 18-4 in the first two games of the series to take a 2-0 edge as things shift to Trenton on Friday night at 7 p.m. with a chance for the Fisher Cats to close out the best-of-five set.
“When you hit .272 as a team on the year, I think you have a pretty good thing going,” Fisher Cats manager John Schneider said. “Nothing really different here. I think playoffs just bring a little more focus into games and at-bats. I thought we had some awesome at-bats and even some of our outs (were good).”
Trenton led off the game with its first run of the series on a Kosuke Satoh leadoff homer, but New Hampshire scored five unanswered runs between the first and second inning to take the lead for good. Max Pentecost slugged a three-run homer in the first to respond to Satoh’s blast while Harold Ramirez laced a two-run triple to the right-field corner in the second.
After the Thunder cut it to 5-3 in the fourth, Cavan Biggio and Josh Palacios re-established New Hampshire’s cushion down the stretch. Biggio’s two-out, two-run single in the sixth bumped the Fisher Cats’ edge to four runs before Palacios roped a three-run triple in the eighth to cap the evening.
“I told the guys two days ago (before the series began) that I’m not going to make them do anything they haven’t done all year,” Schneider said. “Everything is just a little more magnified. They’ve been doing their thing and it’s fun to watch.”
Ramirez and Bo Bichette, who scored four times and stole a base, led the Fisher Cats with three hits apiece.
Only one of five pitchers used by Trenton came away from Thursday unblemished as New Hampshire’s offense scored at least once off every other hurler. To make matters worse for Trenton, New Hampshire scored all of its runs with two outs in an inning.
New Hampshire’s pitching was hard-pressed to repeat its blanking in Wednesday’s opener, but lefty Tayler Saucedo sure tried. After Fisher Cats started Hector Perez was knocked out of the game after surrendering three runs in 3⅓ innings, Saucedo hurled 3⅔ scoreless frames to earn the win, allowing just two baserunners and striking out two.
Saucedo, a starter for New Hampshire most of the season, induced a key double play to escape a jam when he entered in the fourth inning. The lefty was at it again in the seventh with help from Gunnar Heidt, who made a full-extension diving snare at first base and doubled off the runner at second to force Trenton to leave the bases loaded.
“Tayler was kind of wild card that we had going in, having him for length behind Hector,” Schneider said. “He settled the game down with that first double play and it gave us a chance to get back into our approach at the plate. He was outstanding and really the unsung hero of the game.”
Despite allowing four runs, New Hampshire’s pitchers combined to hold Trenton 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and forced the Thunder to strand 15 baserunners.