The Cape Fear Crocs were faced with the unenviable task of facing Boston Red Sox closer Tom Gordon on Tuesday in the first inning of the opener of the South Atlantic League Championship series.
Now for the bad news. Of the five pitchers who combined to strike out 17 batters and lead the Augusta GreenJackets to a 3-2 victory on the road in Game 1, Gordon may have been the least effective.
"All of those pitchers did an outstanding job," Cape Fear manager Frank Kremblas said. "They threw strikes and did it with more than one pitch, and that was the key. No doubt they've got a tremendous pitching staff."
Riding the wave of superior pitching throughout the playoffs, the Jackets will look to capture the franchise's third SAL Championship and first since 1995 tonight in Game 2 of the best-of-three series at Lake Olmstead Stadium.
If the Jackets can win one of the next two games, it will be the first time a Boston Red Sox farm club has won a championship in 15 years.
The Pawtucket Red Sox won the Triple-A International League championship in 1984. It has been 20 years since a Red Sox affiliate won a Class A title -- the Winter Haven Red Sox won the Florida State League championship in 1979.
A ring would be especially sweet for new owners Mike and Jeffrey Savit, who purchased the team last summer. What's more, the club is in its inaugural season as a Red Sox affiliate after ending an 11-year relationship with the Pittsburgh Pirates in October.
The Jackets will send right-hander Lance Surridge (9-6, 3.05 ERA in regular season) to the mound to face Cape Fear right-hander Kristofer Tetz (3-3, 4.35). First pitch is 7:05 p.m.
"I've said all along that our pitching was going to be the key to our success in the playoffs, and they've come up pretty big," Jackets manager Billy Gardner said. "You can't ask for much more than what this staff has given us. From the guys in the rotation to the bullpen, we've gotten an outstanding effort from top to bottom every night."
Though the Augusta staff finished the regular season second in the league in ERA behind Piedmont, the Jackets clearly had the league's most dominant pitching since the All-Star break.
From July 1 to the end of the regular season, the Jackets staff went 37-26 with a 2.72 ERA. During that final 63-game stretch, the Augusta staff allowed just 516 hits and 146 walks while striking out 547 in 563 innings.
"This is probably the best pitching staff I've been associated with," Jackets pitching coach Larry Pierson said. "They've been an outstanding group to work with because they've always been willing to put in the effort they need to improve."
After Gordon allowed one hit and one walk with two strikeouts in a scoreless first inning, scheduled starter Greg Miller took over in the second inning.
The 19-year-old left-hander overpowered the Crocs, who batted .336 as a team and averaged more than five runs in four previous playoff games. Miller struck out eight in four innings to pick up his second postseason victory, while relievers Jon Lyons, Terrance Hill and Mark Cisar finished off an impressive night's work.
Though he gave up a home run to No. 8-hitter Tootie Myers in the ninth inning, Hill was downright nasty, fanning six of the 10 batters he faced, including striking out the side in the eighth on 11 pitches.
Al Benjamin, the Crocs' leading hitter and third-leading hitter in the SAL during the regular season, struck out four times vs. three different pitchers.
"It would have been nice to have sent Gordon back out there for a few more innings, but our guys did a great job," Gardner said. "I think having him here was definitely a boost for our guys. I think it made everyone want to go out there and show him they can play this game, too."
With Game 2 pushed back an extra day because of Hurricane Floyd, the surging yet weary Jackets staff gets an additional day of rest.
"The extra day can't do anything but help us," Gardner said. "It gives our guys in the bullpen especially a chance to rest. If we played (Wednesday), then we probably wouldn't have had some of our guys available. It also is going to benefit Surridge. It's been a long year, and Surridge has a lot of innings on that arm."
| SAL Championship Series |
(Augusta leads 1-0)
Augusta GreenJackets (Red Sox) vs. Cape Fear Crocs (Expos)
Game 2: Thursday, 7:05 p.m., Lake Olmstead Stadium
Game 3: Friday (if necessary), 7:05 p.m., The Lake
Game 2: Cape Fear -- RHP Kristofer Tetz (3-3, 4.35); RHP Lance Surridge (9-6, 3.05.
Game 3 (if necessary): Cape Fear -- RHP Trevor Wamback (6-3, 2.84); Augusta -- RHP Marty McLeary (5-6, 3.12) or RHP Jason Norton (9-6, 2.32).
Tickets: Box $7, reserved $6, general admission $5.