FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Daytona Cubbies had momentum, coming off an East Division title won less than 24 hours earlier. The Fort Myers Miracle had a rested pitching staff, having wrapped up its spot in the Finals three days ago.
Score one for momentum.
After a six-inning pitchers' duel before 2,094 fans at Hammond Stadium, the Cubbies jumped on the Miracle bullpen for five late runs and a 5-1 victory in Game 1 of the Florida State League Championship Series.
The victory guaranteed at least an even slate in the best-of-5 series when it shifts back East on Monday.
Daytona second baseman Tony Thomas, a Tampa native who enjoys something of "hometown hero" status, was the offensive hero for the Cubs after delivering a crucial RBI triple in the seventh and sealing the deal with a squeeze bunt in the ninth.
Thomas, who batted .500 (6-for-12) with five runs scored in the Cubbies' three-game East Division series against the Palm Beach Cardinals, continued to wield a hot bat. But he was prouder of the bunt than the triple.
"A squeeze bunt is something that rarely happens in a ballgame and it's exciting," he said. "To focus and get the job done and help the team win is a great feeling."
For 3 1/2 innings, it seemed as if both teams were allergic to something at home plate.
Fort Myers got men on base in each of the first three, only to have them erased on double plays. Daytona, meanwhile, saw an ideal scoring opportunity go for naught in the fourth when, with runners on the corners and none out, Miracle shortstop Yancarlos Ortiz leapt to rob Steve Clevenger of a run-scoring hit. Ty Wright was picked off third base by catcher Wilson Ramos to end the threat.
But the West Division series' most unlikely hero, Rene Tosoni, performed his magic again to put the Miracle on the board with a solo homer to right-center field opening the bottom of the fourth.
Tosoni, who missed two-thirds of the season with a broken leg and returned to action just a week before the season ended, hit a game-winning homer in the first game of the divisional series after going deep just once in 42 regular-season games.
The way Fort Myers' starter Matt Fox was going, it looked as if Tosoni's blast would hold up. Fox, who finished eighth in the league with a 3.37 ERA, cruised through six innings, striking out 10 while shutting Daytona down on two hits.
But when Fox gave way to reliever Carlos Gutierrez in the seventh, Daytona rallied.
With one out, Clevenger singled and moved to third on a single by Ryan Harvey with one out. Jonathan Mota delivered a game-tying line drive single to left, and Harvey came home with the leading run when Gutierrez overthrew first base for an error. The Cubbies brought home an insurance run when Thomas tripled to the right-field corner to score Mota.
"As soon as I saw the ball fall fair, I knew that gave us the extra insurance run," Thomas said. "So it gave a big lift to the team."
The Cubs' three-spot took young starter Casey Coleman off the hook, and deservedly so, since the first-year pro from down the road pitched well enough to win.
A 15th-round pick in June out of Florida Gulf Coast University and a graduate of nearby Cape Coral High School, Coleman made tossed five innings of four-hit ball in his second Daytona start. His only mistake was Tosoni's blast.
Coleman, who turned 21 in July, is the son of former big leaguer Joe Coleman, now the pitching coach for the Lakeland Tigers, and the grandson of another big leaguer also named Joe Coleman. In fact, Casey's given name is also Joseph.
Coleman had a few dozen friends and family on hand for his start, and between his fan club and Thomas', there were times when it sounded as if there were more "Daytona Devotees" than "Miracle Believers."
But despite the outstanding starting pitching on both sides, the game was decided by the bullpens. Jordan Latham (1-0) came on for Coleman and earned the win with two innings of one-hit ball, while Gutierrez (0-1) was tagged with the loss. While he didn't qualify for a save with a four-run lead, Brian Schlitter showed the Cubs had some potent late-inning arms as he struck out the side in the ninth.
Daytona, 73-59 in the regular season, is looking for its first Florida State League title since 2000, while the Miracle (77-59), who swept second-half West champion Dunedin in their semifinal series, has never won championship in their 17-year history. Fort Myers fell to Daytona in its only other trip to the Finals in 1995.