A forgettable night for Indianapolis took a turn in the ninth inning on Friday when Slade Heathcott made a full-out diving attempt on a sinking liner. A ball that appeared to disappear into the center fielder's glove suddenly popped out and Dean Treanor, watching from the dugout, started to wonder.
"That'll get you thinking," the Indians manager said. "You know, maybe we have chance to get in this thing."
A stunning turnaround followed, capped by John Bowker's go-ahead two-run single in the ninth inning as Indianapolis completed a three-game sweep of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and advanced to the Governors' Cup Finals with a 4-2 win.
RailRiders starter Kyle Davies held the Indians to two hits and three baserunners over first eight innings, but Indianapolis rallied in the ninth when reliever Johnny Barbato loaded the bases and surrendered a two-run single to Bowker with one out.
"I don't think these guys were going to be denied at that point," Treanor said. "Bowker had the big two-run single up the middle, and you can't say enough about how these guys fight back."
Indians All-Star closer Blake Wood worked into and out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth, retiring Gregorio Petit on a ground ball to short.
The Pirates' top Minor League affiliate will face the winner of the Columbus-Norfolk series for the International League championship. Indianapolis, which had spent much of its existence in the defunct American Association, has won Governors' Cups in 1963 and 2000.
"I didn't say a whole lot to them afterward, didn't need to say a whole lot. These guys were ready to celebrate," Treanor said.
Davies, a 32-year-old right-hander, was the story for most of the night as he struck out five while yielding a pair of singles and a walk. The Major Leauge veteran did not allow a runner past first base and departed after throwing 54 of 95 pitches for strikes.
"Davies threw the ball well, so for us to be able to do that in the ninth was big. You can't say enough about the way these guys kept fighting tonight," Treanor said. "The way we played, I think yesterday was maybe the highest intensity level game we've had all year. And today in the ninth, we matched or topped it. It was great to watch these guys play."
RailRiders manager Dave Miley stuck with Barbato in the ninth after he loaded the bases on a walk and two singles before hitting Gorkys Hernandez to force in the Indians' first run. Pirates No. 3 prospect Josh Bell followed with a game-tying sacrifice fly and Willy Garcia singled to reload the bases for Bowker, who sliced a ball up the middle to plate Alen Hanson and Hernandez.
Treanor credited his team for the comeback.
"I took a look down down there at the bullpen] to see if anyone was up, but I never question what anyone does on the other side of the field. I have an enormous amount of respect for Dave Miley, I just love the guy," said Treanor, who previously coached on the same staff as the RailRiders' skipper. "It was obviously a tough one for them to take. But there's always two sides; it was a great comeback and a great win for us."
Mark Montgomery pitched out of the jam to end the ninth and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre threatened in the bottom of the inning when Ben Gamel and Aaron Judge singled and Cole Figueroa walked to load the bases with two outs.
The RailRiders took the lead in the first when Heathcott singled and scored on an error. Figueroa singled home Gamel in the fifth to make it 2-0.
Pirates top prospect Tyler Glasnow started for Indianapolis but departed after throwing 101 pitches over five innings. The 2011 fifth-round pick struck out seven and allowed two runs -- one earned -- on seven hits and three walks. A.J. Morris worked three scoreless innings for the win before Wood picked up his first postseason save.
Bowker, a 32-year-old first baseman, has come full circle in his return to Indianapolis. Drafted by the Giants in 2004, he was traded to Pittsburgh in 2010 and spent two seasons with the Indians, hitting .306 in 2011, before he was dealt to the Phillies. He spent parts of the next three seasons in Japan while also seeing time in the Mexican League before re-signing with San Francisco in January. The Giants again traded him to the Bucs on June 11, and the lefty-hitting infielder finished the year with Indianapolis, batting .219 with six homers and 20 RBIs in 55 games.
"He was overseas last year in Japan and really became a different hitter, seeing him before and now," Treanor said. "He's had his struggles here, but he's really worked hard at getting his swing back. And for him to get that big hit, I know it means a lot to him, and everyone else was pulling for him through his struggles here. It was huge for him to get that hit."
Indianapolis finished the season 83-61, tied with Columbus atop the West Division and won the IL Wild Card.
"We're gonna head back to Indy and see how the other series ends, work out and see where we go," Treanor said. "I think these guys, it doesn't matter, but I think they're -- the way the season series ended with Columbus, there's probably some feelings about that, but it doesn't matter. It's great, they're in the championship now and we'll just wait and see who we play."