FREDERICK, Md. -- You can use any of the sports cliches -- evened the score, leveled the playing field -- and they would all be apt in reference to the Salem Avalanche's 8-4 victory over the Frederick Keys on Sunday evening in Game 2 of the Carolina League Championship Series at Harry Grove Stadium.
Facing the daunting prospect of heading home down 0-2 in the best-of-5 series, the Avalanche rallied for seven unanswered runs over the final four innings.
"We battled back, and that's the sign of a championship team," said Salem manager Jim Pankovits. "We didn't hit a lot of balls hard, but we hit them where we needed to, and I guess that's the most important thing."
The club also redeemed itself, at least in the players' eyes, after a tough 3-2 loss in Game 1 in which the Avalanche squandered several late scoring chances.
"You know, I think there was a little bit of embarrassment, or if not embarrassment then fire and drive to at least split the series while we're here," said Salem center fielder and Carolina League MVP Mitch Einertson, who went 2-for-5 with two runs scored. "We were down early, but we kept battling and kept battling and everything worked out our way. It was a big win for us because now we go home with momentum going our way."
Despite a potentially demoralizing loss, Pankovits did not do any active rallying of his troops before Sunday's game. He knew he didn't need to.
"This time of year, speeches don't really amount to anything," Pankovits said. "If a player can't get up for these games, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for these guys, he shouldn't be here in uniform."
Early on, it looked as if the Keys, who went 64-74 during the regular season, would head down to Salem with a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. They jumped out to a 3-0 lead and knocked out Avalanche starter Casey Hudspeth after three innings.
Zach Dillon's two-run homer in the first inning and Carolina League All-Star Ryan Finan's leadoff blast in the third gave all indications that it could end up being a one-sided slugfest.
Salem, which upset defending champion Kinston in the Southern Division Finals, got on the board in the fourth, rallying for a two-out run when Mark Ori was hit by a pitch by starter Jason Berken and came home on Chris Johnson's double to left-center field.
But the Keys answered immediately, scoring without the benefit of a hit as Blake Davis walked, stole second, moved to third on a wild pitch and came home on Dillon's groundout to make it 4-1.
The patient Avalanche waited out Berken and got to him in the sixth. After Einertson singled up the middle and Ori doubled, both trotted home as Tim Torres' second playoff homer tied the game at 4-4. That signaled the end of the night for Berken.
In the seventh, Salem took the lead as Wladimir Sutil, who had beaten out a one-out bunt single, scored on an error by first baseman Mark Fleisher. It not only marked the first time the Avalanche had led in the series, it was the first time the Keys had trailed in the postseason since the second inning of their Northern Division opener against Wilmington.
Salem put the game away in the ninth, with all three runs coming with two outs due to an assortment of well-placed hits and sloppy fielding. The key blow was a two-run single by Ori, who was 2-for-4 with three runs scored.
The rest of the series will be played in Salem. During the 20 regular-season meetings, the Avalanche won 14 times. But if that lopsided stat makes them at all confident, they're hiding it well. Or at least Einertson is.
"You need to throw [the regular-season record] out the window," he said. "It doesn't matter if you beat a team 100 times in a row, they can get you any day of the week. Our record against them might be good, but not too many of those games were easy. They scrapped all the way to the ninth inning. We can't let up on them."
NOTES: Keys manager Tommy Thompson, who was hospitalized Saturday with abdominal pain, was diagnosed with acute diverticulitis, a condition affecting the large intestine. He was reported to be resting comfortably and taking antibiotics, but the Keys were unsure whether he would be able to leave the hospital in time to rejoin the club for the remainder of the serie. Hitting coach J.J. Cannon is managing the team in the interim, while Aberdeen hitting coach Jesus Alfaro has been brought up from the short-season New York-Penn League to assist Cannon in the dugout. ... The Avalanche will send their most reliable starting pitcher this season, Sergio Perez (7-10, 4.00), to the mound on Monday night. He will face Brad Bergesen (3-6, 5.75). Both are coming off strong winning starts in their respective playoff openers.