FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- With a pitching performance of big-league proportions, the Augusta GreenJackets are knocking on the door of a championship.
Boston Red Sox closer Tom Gordon made a surprise rehabilitation start for the Jackets in Game 1 of the South Atlantic League Championship series Tuesday night, but it was Augusta's left-handed ace and tireless bullpen that got it done against the Cape Fear Crocs.
Scheduled starter Greg Miller, who took over for Gordon in the second inning, combined with relievers Jon Lyons, Terrance Hill and Mark Cisar in an overpowering 17-strikeout performance and a 3-2 victory at J.P. Riddle Stadium.
With the victory, the Jackets head home for Game 2 of the best-of-three series, looking to capture the franchise's third league championship and first since 1995.
"That was just an outstanding performance by our pitching staff," Jackets manager Billy Gardner said. "We've been getting great pitching all year, but it's really impressive when your pitching comes through like that in a big-game situation."
But with Hurricane Floyd honing in on the Southeast, the Jackets will have to wait at least another day to try to capture their crown. Game 2, originally scheduled for tonight, has been moved to Thursday.
Right-hander Lance Surridge (9-6, 3.05 ERA in regular season) will take the mound for the Jackets at Lake Olmstead Stadium, looking to wrap up the title against Cape Fear right-hander Kristofer Tetz (3-3, 4.35).
Game 3, if necessary, will be played on Friday at The Lake.
Cape Fear, which swept Hagerstown in the divisional playoffs and Capital City in the semifinals, had not won a playoff game until this season. The Montreal Expos affiliate is playing its final season in Fayetteville next season before moving to Lakewood, N.J., in 2001.
And for the first time in the postseason, Cape Fear's bats were held relatively quiet. The Crocs were batting .336 and averaging five runs a game in the playoffs before Jackets pitching held them to two runs and six hits Tuesday night.
Gordon, who led the American League with 47 saves in 1998, got the night off in style for the Jackets. Making his second minor-league rehab start, he threw 17 pitches in one inning of work, striking out two while walking one and surrendering a harmless single to No. 2-hitter Albenis Machado.
Miller stepped right in and didn't miss a beat, fanning eight Crocs in only four innings, before handing it over to the bullpen.
By the time the Crocs came to life in the ninth inning and cut the lead to one run on a homer by No. 8-hitter Tootie Myers, it was too late.
Cisar, whose 27 saves finished the regular season tied for the league lead, came on for Hill with two outs and a runner on first and barely escaped.
After walking Albenes Machado to put the winning run on base, Cisar got Crocs' home run and RBI leader Thomas Pittman to ground into a force out to shortstop to end the game and record his second save of the postseason.
"Tonight we just ran into some great pitching," said Crocs manager Frank Kremblas, whose club swept the Jackets in a four-game series in Augusta in July, and finished the regular-season 45-25 on the road.
"I think our guys were a little overanxious at the plate tonight and a little too aggressive. That's what good pitching can do to you."
The Jackets jumped on Crocs ace Mark Mangum, the Expos' first-round pick in 1997, for a run in the second inning when Jose Pena laced an RBI-single to score Tony DeRosso, who led off the inning with a double.
Cape Fear tied it 1-1 in the fourth inning with an unearned run against Miller, when center fielder Wilken Ruan stroked a one-out double and scored when Miller threw wildly to first base on a comebacker.
Joe Kerrigan, the son of Boston Red Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan who joined the Jackets in late August, then delivered with the biggest hit of his young career. With Mangum seemingly getting stronger as the game went on, Kerrigan belted a solo home run leading off the fifth inning to give the Jackets the lead.
Catcher Rudy Pena followed with a double and, after advancing to third on an error by right fielder Jason Hendricks, scored on a one-out single by Carlos Leon to make it 3-1.
"That was a well-played game all around, and Cape Fear's a heck of a ballclub," Gardner said. "We've got our work cut out for us."
Augusta 3, Cape Fear 2
Cape Fear at Augusta, 7:05 p.m.
Cape Fear at Augusta, 7:05 (if nec.)