Charlie Montoyo and several of the Durham Bulls’ players say luck is crucial in the postseason, but don’t take that to mean they’re just spitting into a well and hoping for the best.
It means that in the playoffs, the regular season is over and for a few moments, these hungry players can forget about their big-league anxieties and play to win a championship.
They can place aside worries about performance statistics, scouts or contract issues, and revel in a playoff-clinching win, as they have done twice in Durham this season, with champagne and whoops.
“You start worrying about the wrong thing,” said Matt Andriese, who earned a crucial win in Durham last week to win the third game of a split playoff series against the Columbus Clippers. Durham’s series win sent the Bulls to the International League championship finals for a second straight year.
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Andriese said that, even as a starting pitcher, he feels some of the pressure off – despite constant attention to performance from scouts and Tampa’s front office.
Nick Franklin, the hero of Game Three with a solo homer for the Bulls’ last run of that game, said half-jokingly, “I guess I just blacked out” after he hit the ace..
Any playoff lineup could be compromised by a September call-up to the bigs. Only a galactic streak of good luck and wins could get the Rays into the AL wild card playoffs. But a call-up is still possible; sometimes the big team just wants to get a look at how a guy fares against major league opponents.
A single day in the major leagues changes your life. Insurance, major league salary guarantees, bonuses – much depends on the specifics of a player’s contract.
Regardless, for anyone who earns a short stint on a major league roster, the importance of such an event for household finances can trump, in a very real sense, the meaning to a ballplayer’s honor of an appearance in the bigs.
Even Montoyo doesn’t know when that call might come from the the Tampa GM’s office. And it usually is a surprise to the player who he must tell to pack his bags to meet the Rays wherever they are playing.
September’s call-ups of Steve Geltz and Brandon Gomes deprived the Bulls of two key relievers. But behind Adam Liberatore, whose dependability has amazed Montoyo as it has impressed his teammates, the Bulls’ pen is still strong.
Now they face Pawtucket, perennial toughs.
The best-of-five Governors’ Cup Championship began Tuesday in Pawtucket, with Game Two tonight. The series shifts to Durham Bulls Athletic Park for Game Three on Thursday night, with Games Four and Five (if necessary) on Friday and Saturday.
Even when Pawtucket was tailing its division earlier this season, their series in Durham was a grind.
If the Bulls are to prosper and win the Governor’s Cup, as they did last year, they will have to go over or around Henry Owens, the Boston Red Sox’ most hoped-over pitching prospect.
On a summer stint in Maine this July, I watched the lefty Owens make his last start for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs a few days before his promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Owens, a 6-feet-7 lefthander, came out looking stiff and seemed to throw mostly fastballs for the first few innings. But as the game wore on, he began throwing a harsh change-up to batters and mixed in a few curves.
Owens is unlikely to be called up to the Boston Red Sox in September, reports NESN, the premier New England sports news firm. Boston’s playoff hopes are nil.
If the Bulls overcome Pawtucket, again, they advance to the Triple-A World Series, against the Pacific Coast Leaguechampion team.