In a season already filled with highlights, Colorado Rockies prospect Christian Bergman saved his best for when it really mattered.
The 23-year-old did not allow a hit until the sixth inning and he struck out a career-high eight batters over seven two-hit frames to lead Class A Short-Season Tri-City to a 6-0 victory over Boise in Game 1 of the Northwest League semifinals Monday.
"It's good to go out to Boise and get that first win out of the way," Bergman said. "This is definitely the highlight of my year. I've had a couple good stretches during the regular season, but it means a lot more going deep in the season.
"I'm obviously proud of the complete games and the [scoreless-inning] streaks, but the team accomplishments mean a lot more than the individual ones, so that's why I put this one higher."
Bergman, who twirled two nine-inning shutouts this year, retired the first nine batters he faced before hitting Zeke DeVoss with a pitch to lead off the fourth. Oliver Zapata followed with a walk, but Bergman (7-5 in the regular season) worked out of the jam with a groundout and back-to-back strikeouts to leave runners at the corners.
"That was huge getting out of that jam. You could feel the momentum swing in our direction after that," he explained. "It dealt a pretty big blow to them."
After a perfect fifth, the California native lost his no-hit bid an inning later when DeVoss beat out an infield single to third base with one out in the sixth.
"I did know," Bergman said about the no-hitter. "I wouldn't say I screwed it up, but it was a comebacker to the mound and I thought I could get to it. I got my glove on it and knocked it down, but maybe I should have let it go."
Ryan Cueno started the seventh with a line drive to right field, but Bergman -- selected in the 24th round of the 2010 Draft -- got Reggie Golden to hit into a 4-6-3 double play with his final pitch of the night to keep the shutout bid alive.
"I want to pitch as many innings as possible, but we're still on a pitch count and I had no problem handing the ball to [the bullpen]," said Bergman, who threw 88 pitches. "I had good command of my fastball in and out, up and down, I threw my change-up and slider for strikes and I pitched to contact early. I felt great."
Now in his second season and his first full year of pro ball, the right-hander has shown solid growth. Monday's outing lowered his season ERA to 2.46, and he has 76 strikeouts and just 12 walks. He had a 30-inning scoreless streak over four appearances between July 23 and Aug. 9, and he has surrendered nine runs across his previous nine starts.
His contribution on the mound is one of the reasons Tri-City topped the league in most pitching categories, and why the club was able to clinch both halves of the East Division. The University of California-Irvine product's two shutouts led the league, and his 0.97 WHIP ranked first among all starters.
Last year, Bergman went 1-4 with a 5.96 ERA in 14 games -- including five starts -- for Casper in the Pioneer League.
On Monday, Craig Bennigson loaded the bases with a double and two walks in relief of Bergman in the eighth, but fellow southpaw Kenneth Roberts extinguished the threat by retiring the next two batters. William Rankin closed out the shutout with a scoreless ninth.
Dust Devils designated hitter Juan Crousset smacked a three-run homer and first baseman Tyler Massey was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, two RBIs and a walk.