Dave Wojeski / For The Recorder 7/10/2014 Amsterdam Assignment Mohawks third baseman, Thomas Kain dives for a line drive inside the base during their game against Watertown earlier this season at Shuttleworth Park.
Recorder file photo Amsterdam second baseman JaVon Shelby turns a double play against Utica's Anthony Villa during their game earlier this season at Shuttleworth Park. Amsterdam opens the PGCBL best-of-3 championship series tonight at Shuttlework Park. The Mohawks will host Newark.
By ADAM SHINDER
Through 49 regular and postseason, the Amsterdam Mohawks have been absolutely, unimpeachably brilliant. But, it's what happens next - in games 50, 51 and, if necessary, 52 - that will define their season.
It seems absurd to think that less than two months ago, this team seemingly couldn't get out of its own way to start the season. With the offense unable to get out of neutral as the hitters adjusted to playing with a wooden bat, the Mohawks lost six of their first eight games - five of them by one run, including two to the team they'll host tonight in the opening game of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League Championship Series, the Newark Pilots.
My, how times have changed.
To be honest, it's become rather a familiar story for the Mohawks in Keith Griffin's six years commanding the first-base dugout at Shuttleworth Park. At the beginning of every season, Griffin maintains that it takes 15 to 20 games for a summer team to find its proper gear and that if his team is anywhere near the .500 mark by the time the first two to three weeks of a season are complete, they'll be tough to beat by the time late August and July come around.
With the wealth of talent on the 2014 Mohawks, it's no surprise they turned things around. How quickly they flipped the script and how complete their domination of the PGCBL has been since, that's another thing entirely.
On June 14, then-closer Joe Randall blew a lead by allowing three run in the ninth inning as the Mohawk dropped a 5-4 decision to the Elmira Pioneers that dropped Amsterdam to 2-6 through eight games. At the time, though the Mohawks' pitching was in reasonably good shape, they weren't flawless enough to make up for an offense that was barely crossing the ignominious Mendoza Line of a .200 batting average.
June 14 was also the first day in Amsterdam for outfielder John Razzino. The rising senior from Franklin Pierce was a late addition as the Mohawks scrambled to plug holes in their lineup, and he went 0-for-2 with a strikeout against Elmira. It was one of the few times all season his box score would look like that.
Quickly finding his way into the cleanup spot in Griffin's order, Razzino combined with leadoff man Marcus Carson and No. 3 hitter Josh Gardiner to lift the Mohawks out of their June slumber. All three were PGCBL first-team all-league selections, all three hit better than .340 - Gardiner, in fact, hit .415 and was named the league's player of the year.
Throw in the arrival of the power-hitting duo of Tommy Kain and Alex DeBellis about a week later, and the rounding into form of Jonathan Pryor, Javon Shelby, Brendan Tracy, Blake Logan and Joey Aiola, and an offense that couldn't scratch two hits together early in the season finished first in the league with a .283 batting average and second with 288 runs scored and 22 home runs.
And the pitching? The pitching never slowed down.
Even the Mohawks' vaunted 2012 rotation that featured the likes of Chandler Shepherd, Rocky McCord and Mark Leiter Jr. on a team that finished the summer ranked third in the nation had an earned run average of 3.34.
This year? An absurd 2.49 ERA. A full run better than any other team in the PGCBL.
Even more frightening was the consistency of it all. Between a 10-1 loss to Glens Falls on June 12 and a 7-4 loss to Albany on the final night of the regular season, the Mohawks held every single opponent - for 40 games in a row - to six runs or less.
The numbers really don't lie. With that kind of streak, it's no surprise the Mohawks finished the regular season on a 34-5 run, then tacked on two more wins in a row in the East Division Finals against the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs.
But -- and I know Griffin would say this to me if I asked him, since he's done so many times before --- all of those wins were just a means to an end, an opportunity to get the two wins the veteran coach really savors - the two that must come within the next three nights if he wants a fifth championship in six seasons.
I've heard it so many times from Griffin that regular season records and division championships are perfectly nice, but they're not the endgame. The PGCBL championship is the only trophy he wants. It's probably why I've never seen him happier to win when the Mohawks clinched the 2012 title in Glens Falls - the year after the franchise's only playoff series loss under Griffin.
That night at East Field, Griffin was the last in a swarm to fly onto a dogpile on the mound. After the tumultuous way this season started, if Griffin can become a five-time champion in Amsterdam, he might be the first on the pile.
Follow ADAM SHINDER at twitter.com/RecorderShinder