ALLENTOWN, Pa.–Manny Pina knew early on what 9,602 fans at Coca-Cola Park and the Durham Bulls were about to witness Tuesday night in the Triple-A National Championship Game.
The Omaha catcher was warming up starting pitcher Chris Dwyer when he noticed the movement on the lefthander's fastball.
"When I saw him in the bullpen I said, ‘This is going to be a great night,’ " said Pina. "I caught him a lot this year, but tonight he looked amazing. Every fastball he threw was down and away."
Pina was spot on. Dwyer retired the first 20 batters he faced to lead Omaha to a 2-1 win against Durham. Bulls shortstop Tim Beckham spoiled Dwyer's bid for a perfect game with a two-out single through the second base hole in the seventh.
Omaha, the Pacific Coast League champs, didn’t qualify for the playoffs until the final day of the regular season, and they finished the season with a 70-74 record. But in the playoffs they went 7-1.
Durham won 87 games in the regular season–third-most in franchise history–and lost only one playoff game on the way to their fourth Governors’ Cup title as the International League champions. The Bulls won the 2009 Triple-A championship game.
Durham starter Jake Odorizzi saw his 28 consecutive scoreless innings streak end when Pina singled in Lane Adams with two outs in the second, providing Omaha with a 1-0 lead. The righthander went four innings, striking out eight, walking one and scattering five hits.
Odorizzi yielded to J.D. Martin, the International League pitcher of the year, who worked out of trouble in the fifth before giving up a run-scoring, line-drive single to Irving Falu. That hit glanced off the top of Beckham's glove for a 2-0 cushion in the sixth, scoring Pina who had walked and moved to second on a single by Paulo Orlando.
The 25-year-old Dwyer, selected by Kansas City in the fourth round of the 2009 draft out of Clemson, tied his season high for strikeouts (eight over seven innings) before yielding to Michael Mariot to start the eighth inning.
"My curveball was there, my changeup was there and I was getting ahead with my fastball," said Dwyer in a champagne-soaked Omaha clubhouse. "I felt great in the bullpen.
"I knew it wasn't going to take a lot for me to warm up because I was taking sides (sessions) in between (starts)."
Dwyer, like Odorizzi, was coming off a strong stretch at the end of the season. Dwyer, however, was plagued by control issues. The southpaw limited opponents to one earned run in three of his final four starts, but his command was spotty, walking 13 batters in his final two regular season outings. He had lasted just two innings in his only previous playoff appearance.
Against Durham, the top hitting team this season in the IL, Dwyer was able to locate his fastball down and away while blending in his offspeed stuff. He struck out five of the first nine batters he faced on the chilly evening.
"He had his command tonight," said Omaha manager Mike Jirschele of Dwyer. "He used both sides of the plate real well, and he threw enough breaking balls to keep them off balance."
Like Pina, Jirschele had an inkling early in the game that Dwyer would be dominating.
"As soon as he went out there in the first inning I could tell," Jirschele said. "I've seen him in past games where you could see his command wasn't quite there, but he did just enough to get through. Tonight he was going right at them."
Dwyer had to be shut down in 2012 after a thyroid condition caused him to lose nearly 20 pounds. He rebounded this season to go 10-11, 3.55 with 112 strikeouts. "Everything's good now," he said. "I feel great."
Dwyer had worked five or more scoreless innings in just four of his last 80 starts before Tuesday.
"When he had that medical problem he kept going out there," recalled Jirschele. "He didn't have his fastball, but he kept going at people, challenging people."
Leslie Anderson, the Bulls’ team MVP for the second straight season, launched a long solo home run to left off Mariot with two outs in the eighth to slice Omaha's lead to 2-1.
Cole Figueroa singled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, then went to second on a walk by Beckham. Lefty side-armer Zach Jackson struck out Durham first baseman Vince Belnome to end the game.
Falu, who played on Omaha's 2011 PCL championship team that lost to Columbus in the Triple-A finale, went 3-for-5.
Durham was the first team to lead the IL in ERA and batting average since 1988 and just the fifth IL club to do it in the last 50 years.