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Daniel McCutchen tossed six strong innings Friday as the Trenton Thunder held on for a 3-2 victory over the Portland Sea Dogs in Game 3 of the Eastern League Northern Division Finals.
McCutchen (1-0) allowed a run on three hits and three walks with five strikeouts as the Thunder took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 series.
"I knew it was a big game and we're playing at their place, but I went in there with the same approach," said McCutchen. "I had a little more emotions than usual. It's a completely different atmosphere than the regular season, so there was some pressure."
David Robertson followed with two scoreless frames before Michael Gardner gave up a run on two hits with one strikeout in the ninth for his first postseason save.
Trenton can close out the series with a win in Game 4 on Saturday behind starter Jeff Marquez. Portland, which pulled out a 13-inning victory in Game 2 on Thursday, will send Chris Smith to the mound.
Trenton gave McCutchen an early lead in the second on doubles by Cody Ehlers and Noah Hall. Gabe Lopez doubled and scored on Colin Curtis' sacrifice fly in the third and Ehlers followed with an RBI single to right for a 3-1 lead.
"It was definitely good pitching with a lead," said McCutchen. "I gave up a run in the second inning and then we came right back. I just let my defense work after that. It was good to have a lead out there."
Andrew Pinckney, who drove in the winning run for the Sea Dogs on Thursday, doubled and scored on Zach Borowiak's two-out base hit in the second to get Portland on the board.
"I had everything working, but it was a little more intense," McCutchen said. "I tried to stick to the same game plan: Fastball, curveball and change. I threw them all, but mainly worked off my fastball. I thought I located it in and out."
Borowiak stroked an RBI single in the ninth before Gardner escaped further trouble.
"There were definitely nerves going around in the dugout," McCutchen said of the ninth inning. "It was good to see that last ball get caught. I know [Gardner] had his good fastball tonight. [Portland] didn't give up. They're definitely in it, it was a great battle, a great ballgame to be a part of."
McCutchen, a 13th-round draft pick in 2006, went 11-2 with a 2.50 ERA in 16 starts for Class A Advanced Tampa. He was 3-2 with a 2.41 ERA in seven regular-season outings for the Thunder.
"I write out goals every year, and that was one, to get up to Double-A," he said. "I definitely planned on being here. I pitched well in Tampa and I'm getting better each and every outing. It's been good so far -- it's a little closer to the big leagues."
Portland starter Michael Bowden (0-1) was reached for three runs on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts over five innings. The 2005 first-round pick went 8-6 with a 4.28 ERA in 19 starts for the Sea Dogs.
McCutchen hopes Marquez, who lead the league with 15 wins this year, can follow his lead in Game 4.
"Jeff's last outing he pitched great, so we're confident in all our guys," said McCutchen. "I haven't been up here all year, but I know we've had great pitching all year. Jeff is my roommate, so I'm excited he's ready to go."
NOTES: The Thunder have compiled a 1.45 ERA during the first three games of the series. ... Portland's bullpen combined for four scoreless innings with one hit and three strikeouts. Daniel Haigwood worked 2 2/3 scoreless frames and Andrew Dobies retired all four batters he faced. Portland pitchers recorded perfect frames in six of nine innings. ... Portland had six of its 10 baserunners reach with two outs. ...Trenton went 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position after going 1-for-15 on Thursday.
Danny Wild is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.