Originally created 09/17/99

GreenJackets lose, play for title tonight



He was honored before Game 2 of the South Atlantic League Championship series as the GreenJackets' most popular player.

But Angel Santos would gladly trade the award for a chance to start Thursday night over.

With a chance to sweep the series and capture the franchise's third SAL title, the 20-year-old shortstop's three errors opened the door for the Cape Fear Crocs in a 5-4 victory over the Jackets before 1,337 fans at Lake Olmstead Stadium.

After playing near-flawless defense throughout the playoffs, the Jackets made four errors in Game 2, all of them costly, to give the Crocs new life and force the decisive Game 3 of the series tonight at The Lake.

Cape Fear has the momentum and the league's best road record heading into tonight's showdown. The Crocs are 46-25 on the road this season, including a 5-0 mark in Augusta.

"When you look up at the scoreboard and see four errors up there in a game this important, chances are you aren't going to win," said Jackets manager Billy Gardner, whose club gave up three unearned runs after allowing only three in the previous six playoff games.

"We've got to have a short memory and put this out of our minds in a hurry," Gardner said.

For the second time in the series, the Jackets will have an ace in the hole on the mound tonight in Boston Red Sox closer Tom Gordon.

The 31-year-old right-hander started Game 1 in Fayetteville, N.C., on Tuesday night and pitched one scoreless inning. Gordon is rehabilitating his surgically repaired right elbow in an attempt to return to the major leagues this season. He led the American League with 47 saves in 1998.

The Jackets will face Crocs right-hander Trevor Wamback, who was 6-3 with a 2.84 ERA in the regular season and tossed eight shutout innings in a victory last week over Capital City in Game 1 of the SAL semifinal series.

Gordon is scheduled to pitch two innings before giving way to right-hander Jason Norton, the Jackets' ace who finished fourth in the SAL with a 2.32 ERA.

"I'm pumped up for this chance to pitch in a game this big," Norton said. "I think having (Gordon) in here again will give us a big boost, and hopefully I can go out there after him and finish it off."

Trailing 2-1 in the sixth, the Jackets scored twice to take the lead. Tony DeRosso led off the inning with a double and later scored on a Jose Pena groundout to tie it, and Angel Mendoza added a one-out RBI double to make it 3-2.

But the Crocs scored three runs in the top of the eighth, including two on Santos' third error, to push the series to Game 3. DeRosso belted his fourth home run of the postseason in the eighth inning to make it a one-run game, but with runners on first and second and two outs, Crocs closer Chuck Crompton got Santos to ground out to shortstop to end the game.

A victory tonight would give the Jackets' their third SAL championship and first since 1995. It also will be the first title for a Boston Red Sox farm club since 1984, when the Pawtucket Red Sox won the Triple-A International League championship in 1984.

"We've got to put this game behind us and come out ready to play tomorrow," said DeRosso, who went 2-for-4 and is now 10-for-25 in the postseason.

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.