DURHAM, N.C. -- Catcher Ryan Lavarnway was named MVP after the Governors' Cup Finals, but much of the praise was directed to the Pawtucket Red Sox's newest contributor.
That's Keith Couch, a right-hander making his Triple-A debut.
He pitched like a crafty veteran, frustrating Durham for 6 2/3 innings in a championship-clinching performance Saturday night as the PawSox beat the Bulls, 4-1, in the decisive fifth game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
"Couch hasn't throw in nearly three weeks and that was a gutty effort from him," Lavarnway said.
Couch was rather matter-of-fact about what he'd just accomplished.
"Who wouldn't (like this opportunity)?" he asked. "If you don't like that situation, you shouldn't be playing any sport."
Couch joined the PawSox for the postseason, but he wasn't used until the final game. He went 8-2 with a 2.96 ERA with Double-A Portland, returning from the disabled list slightly more than a month ago.
His reward was this one chance with the PawSox.
"I guess this meant the most and on this stage," he said.
The 24-year-old was nicked for just one hit.
"I just stayed within myself," he said. "This is what I practice all year to do."
The PawSox, who advanced to Tuesday night's Triple-A National Championship Game in Charlotte, won the International League title for the second time in three years and the fourth time overall. They exacted revenge after losing to Durham in four games in last year's Finals.
Lavarnway's homer on the first pitch of the fifth inning gave the PawSox a 3-0 lead. He went 2-for-4 and batted .324 with six RBIs in eight playoff games.
By then, Couch (1-0) seemed unflappable. He finished with four strikeouts and two walks.
"Really, he was just dealing," PawSox left fielder Bryce Brentz said. "For him to come in and do that, that says a lot."
Brentz's two-out double in the first inning drove in Pawtucket's first run. Ivan De Jesus, who hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the 13th inning in Game 4, lofted a sacrifice fly in the third inning. That came after the Bulls botched a rundown, allowing Rusney Castillo to reach third base. Garin Cecchini and Corey Brown doubled in the eighth to produce the PawSox's final run.
Lavarnway was behind the plate for the series finale in part because catcher Blake Swihart, who made a series-saving scoop and tag in the 10th inning a night earlier, was placed on the disabled list with a hand injury.
Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said coming within one strike of securing the title in Game 4 was painstaking. The Bulls did not recover.
"The champagne was on our side with one strike away, and they took it," Montoyo said. "They deserve all the credit."
The PawSox squandered a one-run lead in the ninth inning and lost in the 11th in Game 2, but they didn't allow that to be the defining moment of the postseason.
"Both teams have had [their] heart broken," first-year PawSox manager Kevin Boles said.
The Bulls avoided a shutout Saturday when Jeremy Moore homered with one out in the ninth. Nick Franklin, who learned after the game he would report to the big league Rays, had Durham's other two hits and batted .424 in the postseason.
"We grinded out to get to this point," Montoyo said. "We earned our way to play this game. Anybody who played us in the second half [of the season], nobody thought we were going to make it to this point."
Bob Sutton is a contributor to MiLB.com.