JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
Last night the Mud Hens finally played the type of playoff game they were hoping for.
Game 3 of the Internatioal League Governors' Cup semifinals against Durham was a pitcher's duel, a far cry from the 33-run slugfests that described the first two games in this best-of-five semifinal series.
So everything was perfect. Everything, that is, except the score.
Jon Weber led off the ninth with a home run off Hens closer Aquilino Lopez, and Evan Longoria added a two-run blast four batters later that gave the Bulls a 5-2 victory.
With the win Durham swept the series and punched its ticket for the finals against the winner of the series between Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Richmond, which the R-Braves lead 2-1.
"Honestly I wasn't thinking about a home run. I just wanted to get on base and let the big bats behind me do the work," Weber said. "The first pitch [Lopez] threw me a split-finger fastball, and the next pitch was a fastball in."
The Mud Hens now have lost all six playoff games they have played against Durham, including a first-round sweep in 2002.
"We got beat by a good club," Mud Hens manager Mike Rojas said. "We battled all three games, we just came up short."
Mud Hens starter Eulogio De La Cruz set the tone early when he retired the Bulls in order in the top of the first. In the two games in Durham the Bulls had scored a total of five runs in the first on their way to a total of 20.
Then in the bottom of the first Andres Torres put the Mud Hens on the board when he slammed a 2-0 pitch by Durham starter Jae Seo to deep right. Bulls right fielder Justin Ruggiano kept drifting back to the fence, then jumped as the ball hit the wall a foot away from his glove.
The ball then bounced away from Durham center fielder Jason Pridie, and the speedy Torres raced around the bases for an inside-the-park home run.
But that advantage lasted just two batters into the second as Longoria, one of the top prospects in Tampa Bay's farm system, crushed a 1-2 pitch well over the scoreboard in left for a home run.
The Bulls scratched out a run in the top of the fifth inning, using the wildness of De La Cruz against the right-hander. Michel Hernandez drew a walk, then moved to second on a sacrifice by Elliot Johnson.
De La Cruz got Jorge Velandia to fly out, but Weber lined a two-out single to center that scored Hernandez.
De La Cruz struck out eight and allowed only two hits but also walked seven, tying the Mud Hens playoff record set by Terry Felton in 1980.
The Mud Hens the score again in the bottom of the seventh with some help from the Bulls. David Espinosa led off with a line drive to right that got over the head of Ruggiano and rolled to the wall for a triple.
Seo struck out Brent Clevlen, but pinch-hitter Chris Maples got ahead of Seo 2-1 and lined the next pitch into the right-field corner for a run-scoring double.
The Bulls seemed poised to take the lead in the eighth when Macay McBride walked Chris Richard and Lopez gave up an infield hit to Longoria. But Lopez struck out Brent Butler and Hernandez, then coaxed Velandia to pop out after intentionally walking Johnson to lead the bases.
But that proved to be for naught in the ninth when Weber slammed the second pitch he saw from Lopez in a high arc over the right-field fence for his second home run of the playoffs.
Lopez struck out the next two hitters before Chris Richard lined a single to left and Longoria belted another no-doubt home run off the left-field scoreboard.
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