FORT MILL --
After a nearly two-hour rain delay before the first pitch, and then a three-hour-plus game that stretched from Saturday night into Sunday morning, the Charlotte Knights moved onto the International League championship by beating the Indianapolis Indians 3-1 in the best-of-five series.
The Knights won game four 6-4 as pitcher Matt Zaleski went eight and a third innings for the win. Zaleski, pitching in front of a sparse crowd at Knights Stadium, struck out four and walked just one in his longest outing of his career. Fans may have been deterred by the weather, but the Knights are one of the lowest-drawing teams in the IL, even this year when they emerged as one of the league’s best.
The Knights are leaving Fort Mill after next season to move into a new ballpark being built in Charlotte.
Inning after inning, Zaleski was on point in game four. He allowed his first run of the game in the fifth inning on a lead-off home run by Yamaico Navarro. He settled down and went to the ninth with a five-run lead. While the Indians battled back and knocked Zaleski out of the game in the ninth, reliever Santos Rodriguez recorded the final two outs of the game to send Charlotte to the finals.
The Knights will now begin a best-of-five series against the Pawtucket Red Sox for the International League Championship this week. The Knights are guaranteed one home game, which will be game three of the series, starting at 7:15 p.m. Thursday at Knights Stadium. Games four and five, if necessary, will be Friday, Sept. 14, and Saturday, Sept. 15, also at 7:15 p.m. at Knights Stadium.
As for the offense in game four, the Knights jumped out early on Indianapolis. Infielder Seth Loman, who entered the game with a .500 average in the playoffs, hit an RBI double in the first to give Charlotte an early 1-0 lead. Catcher Josh Phegley, an Indiana native, then singled in the club’s second run of the game to make it a 2-0 ballgame. The Knights tacked on one more after a fielding error by Indians shortstop Chase d’Arnaud to make it 3-0.
The Knights then continued their offensive assault in the second inning.
Outfielder Greg Golson came through with a big two-run home run off of starter Kris Johnson to make it a 5-0 game. Charlotte added a run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Loman to make it a 6-1 ballgame.
The only game the Knights dropped in the series was game three, falling 8-0, in front of about 1,700 fans at Knights Stadium.
Charlotte took both games against the Indians in Indianapolis winning game one 8-1 and game two 14-13.
Entering the playoffs, the Knights (83-61) finished with their second best mark in franchise history – surpassing the 1999 club that won 82 games. Only the 1993 squad won more games in the history of the Knights. That team won 86 games. Both the 1993 and 1999 teams went on to win the International League championship.