Matt Spring wasn't expecting to have much of an impact on the Durham Bulls' playoff run after spending the entire season in Double-A. He'll have to adjust those expectations.
Spring homered and drove in a career-high six runs Sunday as the Bulls punched their ticket to the Governors' Cup Finals with a 9-1 romp over the Louisville Bats in Game 4 of their International League playoff series.
Durham, which lost to the Richmond Braves in last year's Finals, will take on the Scranton-Wilkes/Barre Yankees for the International League Championship.
"We're excited," said Spring, who was making his first start for the Bulls. "Today was a good team win, and hopefully we can carry the momentum into the next series. We just wanna let this one sink in."
After Nathan Haynes broke a tie with an RBI single in the fourth inning, Spring hit a two-run double to extend the lead to 4-1. He added a three-run homer in the sixth and plated another run with a single in the seventh, falling a triple shy of the cycle.
Jon Weber went 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and Jonny Gomes hit a two-run homer in the seventh for the Durham.
Spring spent the regular season with Double-A Montgomery, where he hit .248 with nine homers and 30 RBIs in 70 games. He went 4-for-5 in this series.
"I got called up and thought I would just be an extra guy," Spring admitted. "We had a catcher [Josh Johnson] get hurt in the first game and I got thrown in there. The home run was big and gave us some separation."
After three Durham pitchers allowed 19 runs on 24 hits in Game 2, Jeff Niemann got the Bulls back on track by carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning in Saturday's 3-2 win. Wade Davis (1-0) put forth a similar effort in the clincher, allowing one run on four hits over six innings while striking out seven and walking three.
Dale Thayer struck out four over two hitless frames and Heath Phillips tossed a scoreless ninth.
"Those guys were huge," Spring said, referring to Niemann and Davis. "We got beat up in that second game, but they established the zone and pounded strikes. They forced them to put it in play and that takes the pressure off us. It was good to be able to pull away."
The best-of-5 Governors' Cup Finals begin Tuesday, with Games 1 and 2 in Scranton before the series shifts to Durham for the final three contests, if necessary.
"They're playing good right now and they've got some momentum," Spring of the Yankees. "We have to keep pitching and get some timely hits. We have a good shot to win it, we just have to take it one game at a time and not get ahead of ourselves."
Louisville starter Bobby Livingston (0-1) surrendered four runs on six hits in four innings, walking one and fanning five.
Paul Janish lifted a sacrifice fly in the second and Alvin Colina had two hits for the Bats, who were seeking their first Finals appearance since 2001.