Both the NL Division Series between Atlanta and Miami and the ALDS tussle featuring Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees are terrific showcases for the type of relief pitchers Independent Baseball can brag about these days.
The Braves and Marlins both have a pair of bullpen stars with Indy experience. With Atlanta holding the upper hand entering play Wednesday, southpaw Tyler Matzek and righty Chris Martin are key pieces for getting crucial outs. Matzek was with the Texas AirHogs in the American Association as recently as last season, harnessing his control and preparing for a comeback in the majors after a five-year absence. He struck out three in a row in a key spot for Atlanta in its Game 1 win after being among baseball's busiest relievers during the regular season.
The same is true for the 6-foot-8 Martin, who started his professional career in the same location although the team was known in those days as the Grand Prairie AirHogs.
On the suddenly impressive Marlins, Brandon Kintzler (St. Paul, American Association, and Winnipeg when the Goldeyes still were in the Northern League) is the closer. Another right-hander, James Hoyt, has finally started earning important innings after previously struggling to get enough outings during stints with Houston and Cleveland. He also pitched in the American Association (Wichita) although his pro career started in another Indy circuit, the North American League.
The third reliever in the postseason who got his very first professional opportunity in a non-major league-affiliated league is looking like he could become the best of the group. Right-hander Nick Anderson is being called on whenever the Tampa Bay Rays face their toughest challenges regardless of the inning. Such was the case in Tuesday's second game against the Yankees when the Rays virtually had to win.
Anderson entered the game with the tying run at the plate in the top of the seventh and promptly struck out Gary Sanchez, DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge. He also pitched a 1-2-3 eighth in the 7-4 victory.
He was a Frontier League find, pitching for the road-only Frontier Greys as well as Rockford, IL.
Umpire, Broadcaster Also Step Up
The Independent Leagues have contributed others to the postseason including umpire Will Little and TV broadcaster Adam Amin. The latter, who gets important play-by-play roles regularly in both football and basketball for ESPN, spent years learning his trade with the Somerset (NJ) Patriots of the Atlantic League. He called Game 1 between Atlanta and Miami.