Duncan, Yanks clinch IL division title
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre captures fourth straight crown
It was only fitting that Shelley Duncan propelled Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to its fourth consecutive International League North Division title Friday night.
"He's our head leader in the clubhouse and goes out and plays hard every day," Yankees manager Dave Miley said of the league's Most Valuable Player. "Obviously, the numbers speak for themselves, but he does so much more, not only for the team, but for the community in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre."
Duncan blasted a tiebreaking homer to spark a three-run eighth inning as the defending IL champions beat the Rochester Red Wings, 7-3, at Frontier Field.
After going hitless in his first three at-bats, Duncan belted a one-out solo shot off former teammate Sean Henn (1-1) to snap a 3-3 tie.
"I was just trying to have a good at-bat against Sean, especially against him," Duncan admitted. "He tried to bear down a little bit and it was a big at-bat for the team in the game. When I got two strikes on me, I just really tried to lock in. He threw me a fastball and tried to get it in, but fortunately, he left it over the plate."
The 29-year-old Major League veteran, who leads the league with 30 homers and 95 RBIs, has been pacing the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre attack all season, not only with his play on the diamond but his day-to-day approach.
"Attitude is contagious," said the son of St. Louis Cardinals pitching Dave Duncan. "When you're on a team with guys who will play hard and contribute every day, that makes it easier to do the best you can. But it just doesn't start with the players, it starts with the coaches and manager."
Juan Miranda and Cody Ransom followed Duncan's shot over the left-field wall with booming back-to-back doubles to make it 5-3 before Reegie Corona's sacrifice fly capped the decisive inning.
Duncan, who batted .239 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs in 58 games for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year, drove in a run for the third straight game and has three homers and eight RBIs in his last seven contests.
Though he hasn't been able to play a single game for the parent club this season after spending 57 contests with New York the previous two seasons, Duncan is eager to complete his brilliant campaign with these Yankees.
"Last year, there was a group of us that had a chance to win the Governors' Cup and that was a lot of fun for us," Duncan said. "We're trying to spread that feeling around to the players. I think everyone is catching on. We've really come together a lot as a team. We have a great group of guys here. We only have a week or two left together and we're trying to make the most of it."
Corona belted a solo shot in the second for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which went 17-3 in April before holding off second-place Syracuse the rest of the way.
"At one time we were 23-5 and we only had one over-.500 month after that, I think," Miley said. "But it just seemed like when Syracuse and the teams in our division got close, we somehow, someway continued to put on the heat and got on a little bit of run.
"I think the lowest the lead got down to was probably 2 1/2 games. But we won the games that we needed to win."
Yankees starter Ivan Nova allowed three runs on eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts over six innings before Humberto Sanchez (1-0) yielded a hit and a walk over the next two frames.
Eric Wordekemper worked around a single in a scoreless ninth as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre enjoyed a mild celebration on the Red Wings' field for the second straight year. The Yankees clinched the North crown with an 8-6, 10-inning victory at Rochester last August.
"There were some hugs and high-fives," Miley said. "The players got together in the clubhouse and had a little bit of fun or whatever. Hopefully, we can win a championship. We've just taken step one."
With four games left in the regular season, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre likely will play Durham or Gwinnett in the opening round of the playoffs, which begin on Sept. 9.
Last year, Miley's team beat Pawtucket in the semifinals before taking out Durham in the Championship Series to capture its first-ever Governors' Cup.
The division crown was Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's third in a row as a Yankees' affiliate. It also won the 2006 title as Philadelphia's Triple-A club.
John Torenli is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.