Manager Charlie Montoyo has been here before -- the Governors' Cup Finals -- but he's taking nothing for granted.
Montoyo's Durham Bulls clinched their third straight trip to the International League's championship series on Sunday.
It's the first time the Bulls have made it to the Governors' Cup Finals three consecutive years since joining the league in 1998. Montoyo has managed the Bulls all three seasons since joining the team before the 2007 season.
Now comes the tricky part.
The Bulls lost in the finals the past two years and haven't raised the cup since 2003.
The Bulls open up the best-of-five finals at Durham Bulls Athletic Park tonight at 7:05 against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, a rematch of last September's finals, which the Yankees won in four games.
Considering how often the Bulls' parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays, went to Durham for players this season, Montoyo said he was pleasantly surprised his squad was able to return to the finals. The Bulls beat Louisville in five games in the first round.
"Not because I don't think we didn't have a good team, but because I know how hard it is," said Montoyo, who played in the minors for 10 years.
The team started the year with top lefty prospect David Price and other touted players, but the Rays went early and often to Durham to fill needs in the season following their first World Series appearance, which they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies last October.
"With all the movement we had, I'm really proud of this club," Montoyo said. "Because of the needs of our big league club, we almost went the last three weeks with two [starting pitchers]. Our bullpen did a heck of a job."
Montoyo said the series will come down to pitching, which he has had to piece together lately.
"It's really hard," he said. "When the year's over, whether we win the cup or not, I'm going to look back and say, 'Wow, how did we do it?' "
email@example.com or 919-836-4953