INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Indians cut a 2-0 deficit in half in the bottom of the ninth inning, but their late comeback fell just 90 feet short as the Durham Bulls escaped with a 2-1 win and 3-0 series sweep in the first round of the International League Governor's Cup Playoffs on Friday night at Victory Field. The largest playoff crowd in Victory Field history packed the ballpark to cheer on the Tribe, with 11,327 fans on hand for the Indians final home game of the 2013 season.
The loss, unfortunately for your Indians, concludes the Tribe's record-setting season which saw the team notch back-to-back IL West Division championships for the first time in team history, while also earning consecutive 80-plus win seasons for the first time since 1994-95. Indianapolis' fantastic year also featured the highest overall attendance in all of Minor League Baseball with 637,579 fans coming through Victory Field's turnstiles during the 2013 campaign.
Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth, the Indians came within 90 feet of extending the season by nearly chasing Durham reliever RHP Juan Sandoval (SV, 2.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R). C Lucas May sparked the late rally with a one-out single before pinch hitter Ivan DeJesus cut the Tribe's deficit in half with an RBI single to center that brought Indianapolis within 2-1.
Once DeJesus was replaced with the speedy Darren Ford, DH Chase d'Arnaud rolled a grounder back to the pitcher to move the runner to third base with two outs. Down to their final chance, the Indians grounded into a close 5-3 putout at first to give the Durham Bulls a 2-1 victory and 3-0 series sweep in the opening round of the postseason.
The series-deciding game proved to be a story of missed opportunities for the Tribe as the Indians outhit Durham for the second straight night, collecting 10 base knocks to the Bulls' four. The trend was a carryover from Thursday's game in Durham, and including Game 2, Indianapolis outhit the IL South champs 20 to 11 over the final two games of the series. Even more troublesome for the Indians, they went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position while stranding 10 total runners on the base paths.
While Indianapolis' bats stalled, the Bulls scratched out all the runs they would need with a two-tally third inning. CF Kevin Kiermaier opened the frame by stroking a leadoff single to center off Pittsburgh Pirates rehabbing left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (3.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 SO), before dashing to second on a wild pitch to move into scoring position. After C Jesus Flores flew to left for the first out of the inning, SS Tim Beckham rolled a bunt back to Rodriguez, who in his haste to record the out, whipped an errant throw to first that allowed Kiermaier to score and put Durham up 1-0.
Just one batter later, 3B Cole Figueroa smacked a run-scoring single to right field that brought Beckham plateward to extend the Bulls' advantage to 2-0. Figueroa's base knock was his fourth of the postseason and gave improved the slugger's batting average to .400 through the first three games of the IL Playoffs.
Durham's two tallies marked the Bulls final offense of the game, allowing Rodriguez to settle down and finish out his 3.0-inning rehab appearance. The southpaw surrendered three hits and no walks with one strikeout before departing after the third.
Top prospect Jameson Taillon (5.0 IP, 1 H, 5 BB, 5 SO) took over from there and worked 5.0 one-hit innings in which he walked and fanned five. Taillon surrendered just one single in the dominant outing as he improved his ERA to a stellar 2.70 (9 ER in 30.0 IP) over his final five Triple-A appearances (four starts) of the season. He also fanned an impressive 42 batters in 42.0 total innings of work between the regular and postseason.
Indianapolis knocked on the door several times throughout the contest, nearly kicking it all the way behind the powerful bat of RF Jerry Sands. The slugging outfielder, who homered twice last night, finished the game 3-for-4 with three singles which featured a stretch of six straight hits with five RBI over the last two matchups. Sands nearly willed the Tribe to two come-from-behind victories with his combined .750 batting average and 5 RBI combined on Thursday and Friday.
Durham will now advance to face the winner of Rochester and Pawtucket in the Governors' Cup Championship Round from Sept. 10-14. Following the second-round series, the International League winner will square off against the Pacific Coast League winner in the Triple-A National Championship on Sept. 17 at Coca-Cola Park.
All unused tickets to the Indians 2013 home playoff contests will now serve as rain checks for any game during the 2014 season, with the exception of the Fourth of July. Fans can contact the Victory Field Box Office at 317.269.3545, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., for any additional information.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.