Several things needed to go right Monday for Rochester to clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the International League season.
After a shaky start, it all came together for the Red Wings, who routed visiting Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 13-3, and took advantage of a Norfolk loss to earn the IL wild card. Rochester and Norfolk finished with identical 77-67 records, but the Wings owned the tiebreaker after beating the Tides in six of eight games head-to-head.
It's Rochester's first postseason appearance since 2006. The Wings, who last won the IL championship in 1997, will face North Division champion Pawtucket in the first round starting Wednesday at Rochester's Frontier Field.
The Red Wings' hopes took an early blow when Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Corey Patterson led off the game with a blast to right. Rochester starter Scott Diamond gave up another single and walk in the frame but escaped without further damage.
Rochester got that run -- and much more -- back in the bottom of the first. The first six Red Wings hitters reached base, with Rochester scoring three times before RailRiders starter Caleb Cotham recorded an out.
The Red Wings went on to score nine times on eight hits, a walk and a hit batsman in the inning. All nine runs were charged to Cotham (6-6), who lasted just two-thirds of an inning.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bounced back in the third, scoring twice on four straight singles to open the inning. With men still on first and second and no outs, RailRiders center fielder Adonis Garcia grounded sharply to third baseman Adonis Garcia, who stepped on third and went around the horn for the Red Wings' first triple play since June 8, 2006.
The Wings tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the third and the rout was on. Shortstop Eduardo Escobar smacked a solo homer in the frame after delivering a pair of two-run doubles in the first. He finished the day 4-for-5 with a homer, three doubles and five RBIs.
Rochester matched a season high with 18 hits in the game, with five players collecting multiple hits. The first four hitters in the Wings lineup combined to go 11-for-21 with a homer, five doubles and eight runs scored.
Diamond (4-0) earned the victory for Rochester, allowing three runs on seven hits over seven innings. He walked two and fanned two. Virgil Vasquez closed out the win by retiring all six RailRiders he faced.
The victory capped a furious second half for the Red Wings, who sat in last place in the IL North on May 29. They went 20-8 in July, including a key four-game sweep of Norfolk from July 26-29.
Rochester has faced their semifinal opponent Pawtucket three times in the Governors' Cup playoffs -- in 1986, 1996 and 1997 -- and won all three series. If the Wings are to make it four in a row, they'll have to do it without IL Most Valuable Player Chris Colabello, who has played just four games for Rochester since mid July.
Durham 1, Norfolk 0 (10 innings)
Rochester's gain was Norfolk's loss, as the Tides fell to Durham in a matchup of top prospects making their Triple-A debuts.
Left-hander Enny Romero, the Rays' No. 5 prospect went eight scoreless innings for the Bulls, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out a pair. Orioles No. 6 prospect Mike Wright, a 23-year-old righty, scattered six hits over 6 2/3 scoreless frames.
Bulls designated hitter Jason Bourgeois, who went 3-for-5, delivered the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th, driving in Leslie Anderson with a one-out single to left.
Jonathan Schoop led off the bottom of the frame with a single up the middle, but Durham's Kirby Yates fanned the next three batters to, after Rochester's win, end the Tides' season. Norfolk last reached the postseason in 2005.
Romero, a 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic, was excited to be part of the playoff atmosphere in Norfolk. After going 11-7 with a 2.76 ERA in 27 starts for Double-A Montgomery, the southpaw needed just 91 pitches to get through eight innings against the Tides.
"I had good fastball command today," he said. "I knew I had to be careful with these [Triple-A] hitters, and I was able to get ahead a lot of the time."
Asked if he would be part of Durham's playoff rotation, Romero said he didn't know.
"It would be great to be part of a playoff chase, but I just want to pitch."