The Augusta GreenJackets were the hottest team in the South Atlantic League entering the postseason and had one of the top young pitching prospects in baseball on the mound to start their playoff opener.
The Columbus RedStixx, on the other hand, suffered through a miserable second half of the season and stumbled to the worst mark in the league since June 21.
The records didn't matter Tuesday in Game 1 of the South Atlantic League Southern Division playoff series. After waiting out a rain delay of nearly 2' hours, the Jackets dropped a 2-1 decision to the RedStixx before a sparse, damp and depressed crowd of 485 fans at Lake Olmstead Stadium.
The series now shifts to Columbus for tonight's Game 2 of the best-of-three series with the Jackets needing a victory to keep their season alive.
Augusta will send right-hander Rick Riccobono (10-7, 3.27 ERA) to the mound to face Columbus left-hander Adam Barr (3-5, 5.80). Game 3, if necessary, will be Thursday night in Columbus.
The winner of the series advances to face the Northern Division champion, either the Piedmont Boll Weevils or Delmarva Shorebirds, in the best-of-five SAL Championship series.
Despite winning 21 of their final 26 games and boasting one of the hottest lineups in the league over the past month, the Jackets managed only three hits Tuesday and only one after the first inning, as RedStixx starter Anthony Marini and reliever Rick Matsko combined on a solid performance.
Making his first career playoff start, Augusta's Brad Baker struggled with his command early and never got on track.
The 19-year-old right-hander, a first-round pick by the Red Sox in 1999, allowed a pair of runs on four hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings and left in the sixth inning trailing 2-1.
Baker issued a one-out walk to Jhonny Peralta in the first inning, and Omar Moraga drove him in with a two-out double that gave the RedStixx a 1-0 lead.
The Jackets tied the score in the bottom of the first when Lew Ford led off with a single. Joe Kerrigan followed with a double that moved Ford to third, and Ford came home on an RBI groundout.
But Baker scuffled again in the third inning, and the RedStixx took a 2-1 lead when Peralta ripped a one-out double off the wall in right field and scored on a two-out single by cleanup man Nate Grindell.
On Peralta's double, Jackets right fielder Carlos Rodriguez appeared to lose the ball in the lights, which cost him a chance at running it down.
Meanwhile, Marini was in command for Columbus. After the shaky start in the first, he settled down and retired 13 of the next 14 batters he faced to cruise into the fifth inning.
The Jackets -- who won 11 of the 16 meetings with Columbus during the regular season, including the final eight in a row -- almost got something going in the fifth when Marini issued consecutive one-out walks to No. 8 and 9 hitters Brady Williams and Freddy Sanchez.
But Marini escaped the jam when Ford smoked a first-pitch fastball to third base, where Grindell fielded the one-hopper, stepped on the bag to retire Williams and gunned the speedy Ford down at first for a double play.
Again in the seventh, the Jackets threatened, but this time, they shot themselves in the foot.
Chris Warren led off the inning by reaching on an error by Grindell, and he advanced to second when Marini walked Steve Minus.
The Jackets seemed to catch a huge break when Marini fielded a sacrifice bunt by Kelly Ramos and made an ill-advised attempt to nail Warren at third. Warren beat the throw and initially was called safe, but he overslid the bag and was tagged out by a heads-up Grindell. Marini then got Williams to fly out weakly to center, and Matsko came on to retire Sanchez on a grounder that ended the Augusta threat.
Marini, who went 4-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 11 games during the regular season, gave up the one run on only two hits in 6 2/3 innings to get the victory, while Matsko allow just one hit over the final 2 1/3 innings to nail it down for the Stixx.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.
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