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Redbirds, Bulls face off in National Championship09/21/2009 10:00 AM ET
By Josh Jackson / Special to MLB.com
"Bricktown Showdown" was a catchy name, but the new name for Tuesday night's matchup between the International League's Governors' Cup victors, the Durham Bulls, and the Pacific Coast League-champion Memphis Redbirds spells out exactly what's on the line.
The Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game -- rechristened this year -- returns to Oklahoma City, where it's been played every year since its inception in 2006, and will air on ESPN2 and MiLB.TV at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
The Bulls are out to become the first IL team to claim a victory in the post-postseason dance. This year's Durham club, however, isn't a team easily intimidated by the past. In taking the 2009 Governors' Cup, they dethroned the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, who beat the Bulls in four games in the 2008 IL Finals. The Yankees went on to lose the Bricktown Showdown to the Sacramento River Cats, 4-1.
For Durham manager Charlie Montoyo, this year's game presents more than a chance to prove his league's ability -- it offers him an opportunity to show his team to some of his favorite fans.
"I'm glad we're playing in [the Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game]," said Montoyo, "because my family in Puerto Rico can watch it."
Montoyo's Bulls have been something to watch all season. Having started the campaign with David Price as its ace, Durham continued to contend after his late-May promotion and into the summer. Wade Davis, a right-hander with a blazing fastball, stepped up to win 10 games and pile up 140 strikeouts in 28 starts. Durham lost Davis when the rosters expanded but still edged the Louisville Bats in a best-of-5 Round 1 series before breaking out the brooms against defending-champion Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Jeremy Hellickson, promoted from Double-A Montgomery in time to go 6-1 with a 2.51 ERA for the Bulls over nine starts, has been a strong contributor to Durham's success in the regular and postseason. He struck out 18 and posted a 2.92 ERA over 12 /13 playoff innings, and he could get the ball for the Bulls in the Triple-A National Championship Game.
Justin Ruggiano, an offensive standout for the Bulls all season, stayed consistent in the playoffs and also pitched in with some clutch glove work (Watch). Matt Joyce, another big bat for Durham, will be a headache for Redbirds pitchers.
Memphis, in the meantime, has hardly been a Sunday picnic for playoff opponents. The Redbirds swept both of their postseason series -- first sinking the Albuquerque Isotopes and then beating the two-time defending-champion Sacramento River Cats in the Finals. Over the course of their six playoff games, they outscored the competition by a margin of 25-10. Going back to the regular season, Memphis has won 12 of its 14 games in September.
David Freese underwent ankle surgery in May but has been a productive bat for the Redbirds while recovering. He hit .300 and bashed 10 home runs during his 56 regular season games, and during the playoffs he delivered clutch hits, including two home runs.
"We're still kind of letting it sink in that we're the PCL champions," he said, "But we're definitely looking forward to this game."
As though the thrill of playing in a national championship weren't enough, many Redbirds players are especially fired up about the television broadcast.
"We're all very excited," said Freese. "There are a few guys who haven't been on national TV before, so this is big for them."
Jon Jay and Jarrett Hoffpauir combine with Freese to form the keystones of an intimidating lineup -- Jay and Hoffpauir each hit .292 with four runs scored in the PCL playoffs -- and Memphis appears as strong of a team as Hellickson has faced this season.
While the Redbirds have a few decent options for the Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game starter(Tyler Norrick and Adam Ottavino come to mind), southpaw Jaime Garcia, who only made four regular-season starts for the Redbirds, will get the nod for Memphis. Garcia used two playoff outings to prove he can handle the pressure of a big game, tossing 12 scoreless innings and putting up a 2-0 record.
Freese noted that Memphis will use Monday to prepare for Tuesday's game, making it clear that his Redbirds have no intention of resting on their Pacific Coast League championship laurels.
"[Monday] we have a practice," he said. "We'll take BP, and take some groundballs. Some guys will do bullpen sessions. Then we'll go out and get a bite to eat as a team, just get ourselves ready."
"I think the main thing we want to do is to win this game," Freese said. "It's really nice to be the PCL champs, but we want to take home the national championship, to be the best in Triple-A."
For both of these teams, the challenge is the same. After a long season of working hard day-in and day-out to get into the playoffs, and then maintaining a deep concentration through the postseason, they must bring that focus back for one more game -- the National Championship.
"This game is a collection of the best of Triple-A Baseball," said John Allgood, executive director of the host Oklahoma City RedHawks. "The game represents Triple-A Baseball from coast to coast."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.