ASHEVILLE, N.C. - This was supposed to be the ultimate test for a pitching staff that led the South Atlantic League in ERA, a chance for the Augusta GreenJackets to put their hopes in the capable hands of their ace right-hander and gain the upper hand in their quest for another championship.
Instead, the opener of their SAL Southern Division playoff series against the Asheville Tourists on Tuesday turned out to be a chance for the maligned Jackets offense to shine.
The Jackets' bats rose to the occasion as Augusta overcame an early deficit to defeat the Tourists 8-6 at McCormick Field.
Trailing 4-2 after the Tourists jumped on right-hander Rene Miniel early, the Jackets rallied to take the lead for good with a four-run third inning, then added two more runs in the eighth to take a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-three series.
Second baseman Melvin Dorta went 2-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored, while Dustin Brisson and Kevin Youkilis also had two hits apiece to pace the Jackets' 11-hit attack.
"Dorta's been a sparkplug for our ballclub in the second half," Jackets manager Mike Boulanger said of the 19-year-old Venezuelan, who was promoted to Augusta in July after leading the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in batting. "And he was our sparkplug tonight."
Augusta reliever Franklin Francisco, who took over for Miniel in the fifth, worked three strong innings of relief to pick up the victory. Dan Giese endured a scare in the ninth when the Tourists scored two runs, but he closed it out for the victory.
Asheville starter Matt Roney, who allowed five earned runs in two-plus innings of work, took the loss.
"We've been winning all year with pitching and defense, but Miniel's been showing signs of fatigue lately, and he didn't have the feel for his breaking ball and pitched behind with his fastball tonight," Boulanger said of his 20-year-old starter, who was 2-0 with a 0.32 ERA in August. "For our sake, our bullpen did a nice job, and our bats came through with some key base hits in key situations."
After dropping its final five regular-season games, Augusta can wrap up the series with a win at home tonight in Game 2 of the series at Lake Olmstead Stadium.
With one more victory, the Jackets will advance to the SAL Championship series for a chance to capture the fourth league title in franchise history and their second in three seasons as a Boston Red Sox affiliate.
Game 3, if necessary, will be played at The Lake on Thursday.
The Augusta-Asheville series winner will face the winner of the Northern Division series between the Lexington Legends and Hagerstown Suns. The Legends took a 1-0 lead in the series with a 6-0 win at Hagerstown, Md., on Tuesday, and the series now shifts to Lexington, Ky., for the final two games.
The Northern Division champ will be the host of Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-five SAL Championship series, beginning Saturday. The South champ will play host to the final three games of the series.
Left-hander Mauricio Lara (7-6, 3.02) will get the start for the Jackets tonight in Game 2 against Tourists right-hander Scott Dohmann (11-13, 4.32). Gametime is 7:15 p.m.
"It's hard to say we're in the driver's seat, because, you come home and lose one game, and you're not in the driver's seat anymore," Boulanger said. "But I feel good coming home with Lara going tomorrow, and hopefully he can give us a chance to win the ballgame."