Luke Carlin was 0-for-4 in getting down bunts Wednesday, but it's safe to say the Clippers will forgive him.
Carlin's two-run walk-off homer in the 10th inning led Triple-A Columbus past the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, 6-4, in Game 1 of the International League's best-of-5 semifinal series.
The catcher fell behind in his decisive at-bat, 0-2, after failing to bunt safely. He swung away on the third pitch and became an unlikely hero.
"I guess it's better than striking out looking," Carlin joked. "But seriously, the odds are, if you don't get those bunts down, you're not much of a help. But it happened to work out well."
Carlin, a backstop acquired in a late-season trade from Pittsburgh, hammered a high inside fastball over the wall in right field off reliever Amaury Sanit, who had already allowed a leadoff single to Jerad Head. Carlin finished 3-for-4 and fell a triple shy of the cycle.
"I was looking to bunt. With a runner on first, nobody out, my coach gives me the bunt sign," Carlin said. "I knew I was bunting. They told me, 'If [Head] gets on, bunt him over.' So I squared around, and it went foul. I squared around again and it was foul, 0-2. Then I just got a fastball up I was able to get to. But that was the second time I didn't get the bunt down -- it happened earlier and I had to get the guy over ... strike one, strike two and then I hit a changeup for a base hit. I was 0-for-4 on my bunts."
The Clippers were three outs away from closing out a Game 1 win before Jorge Vazquez led off the top of the ninth with his first playoff home run to knot the game, 4-4.
"He was one of the guys that we know has some power and can hurt us with the longballs," Carlin said. "But give credit to him, he hit a good pitch. If we thought he would've hit it the way he did, we wouldn't have called that pitch. It wasn't a perfect pitch, though."
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was without its top hitter, Jesus Montero, and was forced to slide part-time catcher P.J. Pilittere behind the plate. Pilittere, who played in only 22 games this year, mostly as a first baseman and designated hitter, went 1-for-4, grounding out in the 10th.
Sanit was forced into late-inning action after closer Jonathan Albaladejo, who set the International League record for saves this year with 43, was called up to the Bronx last week.
Montero reportedly hurt his leg, although there was speculation his absence from the lineup was linked to a potential callup to New York, where Yankees veteran catcher Jorge Posada is sidelined with a concussion.
"We prepared to face him and he's definitely done a nice job at the plate this year," Carlin said of Montero, the Yankees' top prospect. "He's not an easy out, so him not in was definitely a nice breather for us. From my understanding, he did injure himself. I'm pretty sure he was on crutches today. Hopefully he's OK."
Columbus took the lead in the first when Ezequiel Carrera homered to right with one out off Yankees starter D.J. Mitchell. The Yankees responded in the third when Justin Christian homered and Reid Gorecki followed with an RBI single.
Wes Hodges tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the frame and Carlin tacked on another run with an RBI double in the fourth. Jerad Head's RBI single in the sixth for Columbus was followed by Christian's RBI single in the seventh for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Bombers then tied it in the ninth when Vazquez took Vinnie Pestano to deep center.
"We knew their bullpen was pretty good, but we hadn't seen their starter before," Carlin said of Mitchell. "From the reports we had, we heard he was a sinker-slider-change guy. We said, 'Let's be aggressive, have some fun.' And we're a young team, we can swing it pretty well. We just wanted to go out there today, there was no pressure on any one person."
Carlin has felt the pressure of the Major League scene before, though. The veteran began the season with the Pirates at Triple-A Indianapolis, where he hit .239 with two homers and 23 RBIs in 63 games. He was traded to the Indians in August for a player to be named and debuted Aug. 11 with Columbus, where he hit two homers in 13 games heading into the postseason.
The Canadian, hitting .238 this year, was a Northeastern product originally drafted by Detroit in the 10th round of the 2002 Draft. He joined San Diego in 2003 and made his Major League debut in '08 with the Padres. He appeared in 10 games with the D-backs last year after hitting .321 in the Pacific Coast League.
"It's been a good year," Carlin said. "The numbers aren't where I want them to be offensively, but I've learned a lot and I'm continuing to get better. It's a nice adjustment to get a new look and new team -- the Pirates and Indians were both new for me -- but it's another opportunity over here. The league is a lot more different than the PCL, and it's just nice to get around and see this part of the country."
The Clippers can take control of the series Thursday in Game 2. Former Yankees prospect Zach McAllister (9-12, 5.29 ERA) is expected to oppose the Yankees' David Phelps (4-2, 3.07) before the series shifts back to Moosic, Pa., on Friday when franchise win leader Kei Igawa takes the ball.
"Absolutely, Game 1 always important," Carlin said. "It was a close game the whole way. Anytime you can come out on top in a game that's close and going back and forth, it's always a momentum builder the next day. We lost the last three or four to end the year, so to come out and get a win was really good."
In other International League action:
Louisville Bats 8, Durham Bulls 4
Mike Costanzo hit a three-run homer and finished with four RBIs to lead Louisville past Durham in the series opener. Chad Reineke held the Bulls to four runs -- three earned -- over seven innings for the win. Leslie Anderson homered and plated three for Durham. Gameday box score