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Aeros win Eastern League championship09/17/2005 10:30 PM ET
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
AKRON, Ohio -- Jake Dittler was in trouble only once, and even then the idea that Portland would make him pay seemed a stretch.
The Akron starter toyed with the Sea Dogs for much of the seven innings he worked Saturday night at Canal Park, putting an exclamation point on what proved to be a marvelous Eastern League Championship Series for Aeros' hurlers.
Dittler and Co. allowed only one run over 24 innings, again dominating from the opening pitch as Akron bested Portland, 4-1, to win its second league title in three seasons.
"Our pitching staff carried us throughout the year and showed again what it can do in the final series," said Akron manager Torey Lovullo, who also led most of the Aeros to a Carolina League title in 2004 while piloting Class A Kinston. "We shut down a good Portland offense. We allowed only one run over the last two games and that was key. I'm really proud of these guys. It's the same type of feeling I had last year. These guys are all winners."
Although the pitching staff excelled as a unit, outfielder Nathan Panther, who began the season in Kinston before joining the Aeros on Aug. 11, was named playoff MVP after hitting .380 (12-for-31) in eight games. He went 4-for-4 in the finale and finished with a pair of doubles, two triples, a homer and five RBIs.
"It's a great honor," said Panther, who was involved in two of the three Akron rallies. "I wasn't expecting it. I think everyone on our team should get the MVP, especially the pitching staff. They came out and threw well and gave us the chance to win."
The Akron staff held Portland scoreless for 23 2/3 consecutive innings and almost tossed a second consecutive shutout before Hanley Ramirez's RBI double in the ninth inning. Overall, Portland went winless in four road games during the postseason, hitting .216 away from Hadlock Field while scoring only three runs in 36 innings. Akron, meanwhile, won all five postseason games at Canal Park, highlighting a trend that saw the visitors lose 13 of 14 Eastern League playoff games.
The Sea Dogs loaded the bases against Dittler (1-1) in the fourth before he got Chad Spann looking to end the threat. He allowed five hits before Chris Cooper and Edward Mujica each pitched an inning to cap the season.
"Me and (catcher Javier Herrera) Javi had a game plan from the start and stayed with it," Dittler said. "We just wanted to keep the ball in play because we knew one swing wasn't going to beat us. That proved to be the case once we went up 4-0. It was probably the best I've thrown all year.
"I was in the same situation last series against Altoona and I just let us down. But this is a pretty awesome feeling."
The Aeros got on the board in the third after Eider Torres led off with a single and went to third on Panther's base hit. After starter David Pauley (0-2) got Chris Snyder looking, Ryan Mulhern lifted a sacrifice fly to left.
Akron followed a similar script an inning later after Jon Van Every got things started with a one-out walk. Herrera followed with a squib to the third-base side of the mound. Pauley fielded the ball but made an ill-advised, off-balance throw that went wide of first to put runners on second and third. Ivan Ochoa followed with a sacrifice fly to left field, giving the Aeros a two-run bulge.
Pauley allowed five hits over four innings before giving way to Randy Beam, who fared no better. Panther led off the fifth with a single and scored on Mulhern's double to deep right-center. After Pat Osborn was intentionally walked, Shaun Larkin followed with an RBI double to right-center to put the game out of reach.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.