After dropping a heartbreaking, extra innings back-and-forth battle with the Tampa Yankees at home on Tuesday night, the Dunedin Blue Jays traveled to Tampa needing to win both games of a doubleheader on the road to take home a share of the Florida State League championship. No team in the league had more wins at home (or wins in general) than the Tampa Yankees in 2017 and the Blue Jays had won just 3 of 10 previous matchups at George M. Steinbrenner field this season. Despite the odds, the Jays prevailed 4-1 in the opening game and 5-3 in a thrilling finale to be crowned Co-Champions of the Florida State League.
With Hurricane Irma forcing the cancellation of the Florida State League Championship, the Blue Jays entered game two of the three-game division playoff needing a win to stay alive in the co-championship race. RHP Jordan Romano took the ball for the Jays and delivered a gem, allowing just one run in 6.2 innings. Although he finished the regular season in second place in the entire league in strikeouts, Romano struck out no batters tonight, but limited the Yankees to just five hits.
RHP Albert Abreu matched Romano zero-for-zero in the early going, not allowing a hit until Vladimir Guerrero Jr. knocked a single to lead off the fourth inning. RF Connor Panas followed with a walk. Both runners advanced on a groundout to second, putting two runners in scoring position. 2B Cavan Biggio drilled a line drive single to right, scoring both Guerrero Jr. and Panas to give the Jays an early 2-0 lead.
Biggio struck again in the seventh inning, crushing a home run to right to put Dunedin up 3-0.
Tampa did not go down without a fight. Estevan Florial knocked a solo home run to lead off the seventh, cutting the lead to 3-1.
The Blue Jays answered in the top of the eighth inning, hitting a solo home run of their own, a line drive shot to left by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
LHP Kirby Snead entered in relief of Romano in the seventh inning and threw 2.1 shutout innings to close out the game. Snead, who threw 1.2 innings of hitless relief last night, allowed just one hit while striking out three to finish the 4-1 Dunedin win and force a deciding game three.
RHP T.J. Zeuch took the mound on just three days rest in the grand finale of the 2017 season. In just his second start since coming off the disabled list, Zeuch allowed just one hit over 4.0 innings to a potent Yankees offense.
Dunedin took the game's first lead in the second inning on a no-doubt home run off the bat of Connor Panas. The homer for Panas was his second of the series and 16th since July 1st.
Tampa tied the game in the fourth on an unearned run. Kyle Holder reached on a groundball that skipped off the glove off SS Bo Bichette ranging up the middle and hustled to second when the ball trickled into the outfield. Holder advanced to third on a ground out and scored on a single by Trey Amburgey.
RHP Conor Fisk relieved Zeuch in the fifth inning with the score tied. After the leadoff batter in the fifth was retired on a groundout, Dalton Blaser homered to center field to put Tampa up 2-1.
After the homer, Fisk settled in and provided the Blue Jays with 3.1 innings of relief, allowing no further runs while striking out a pair.
Connor Panas continued his incredible second half in the seventh inning, hitting a solo home run out of the stadium in right field to tie the score.
The Yankees threatened in the bottom of the inning. Tim Lynch hit a ground-rule double to lead off the inning and put a runner in scoring position with no outs. When the following batter attempted to advance Lynch on a bunt, Fisk pounced on the ball and threw out Lynch at third. The next batter singled to put two on, but Fisk retired the next batter on a pop up and ended the inning with a strikeout.
Despite both teams putting runners in scoring position in the eighth, neither team scored, setting up a dramatic ninth inning to decide the championship.
The bottom of the Blue Jays order struck in the top of the ninth inning. After a walk by 1B Juan Kelly, CF Edward Olivares singled with two outs. The next batter, Jake Thomas, lofted a single to left to score Kelly with the go-ahead run. DH D.J. Davis then looped a bloop double just inside the foul line in left field, scoring Olivares and Thomas and putting the Blue Jays up 5-2.
RHP Zach Jackson, who had finished the eighth inning, took the mound in the bottom of the ninth looking to lock down a championship. The Yankees did not make it easy. Donny Sands doubled to lead off the inning and scored on a single by Alexander Palma. With the tying run at the plate, Jackson retired two batters on flyouts to end the ninth and give the Dunedin Blue Jays their first championship in franchise history.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.