After getting blown out in the opener of the International League semifinals, Durham hammered out a pair of narrow victories to regain control of the series. Ultimately, it took another close game to get the Bulls back to the Governors' Cup Finals.
Brandon Snyder delivered the decisive knock on Saturday as Durham held on for a 3-2 victory over Toledo and a 3-1 win in the best-of-5 semifinals. The Bulls' three wins were decided by a total of four runs, but they will play for the championship for the 12th time in 21 years as a Triple-A team.
Video: Snyder puts Durham on top with single
"We got a whole new group here in Durham and they bought into the winning tradition," Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said. "We've had a lot of fun doing it. Young group, old group. New coaching staff, everybody's on board. ... It puts a target on our back with the winning tradition that we have here, but I think everybody is up to the task."
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre defeated Lehigh Valley, 7-2, in Game 4 of the other semifinal, setting up a rematch of the 2017 Finals. Durham spoiled the RailRiders' opportunity to repeat as champions last September.
"They had to scratch and claw to get into the playoffs and they're playing some good baseball right now," Sandberg said. "They have tremendous leadership and they have a winning tradition as well. It's going to be two good teams going at it."
Gameday box score
A 31-year-old former first-round pick of the Orioles, Snyder played for five organizations -- including two stints with Baltimore -- before signing a Minor League deal with Tampa Bay before the season. He batted .253/.329/.465 with 18 homers and 60 RBIs in his 13th professional campaign and had two hits in his first 11 postseason at-bats before coming through at the right time for Durham.
"He's had a really good season offensively, better than maybe what the batting average suggests," the fourth-year skipper said. "He's been an incredible leader in this clubhouse with all these roster moves that we've had. Keeping the clubhouse together just goes to show what type of person that he is."
The Bulls and Mud Hens traded runs on RBI singles by Durham's Jason Coats in the third and Harold Castro in the fourth. Castro misplayed Coats' grounder to third to begin the sixth and Austin Meadows followed with a base hit to right field to put runners at the corners. A four-pitch walk to Rays No. 18 prospect Joe McCarthy loaded the bases for Snyder, who lined the run-scoring knock into left. Thirteenth-ranked Nathaniel Lowe lifted a sacrifice fly to left to plate Meadows with an insurance run.
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Andrew Moore got the start for Durham and yielded a run on four hits over four innings. Like Meadows, Moore was acquired by the Rays in a midseason trade. Sandberg pointed out that only himself, strength coach Bryan King, infielder Kean Wong, right-hander Chih-Wei Hu and Brent Honeywell, the organization's top prospect who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, are the only holdovers from last year's championship.
"It's pretty amazing," Sandberg said, lauding the four other Rays affiliates that reached the playoffs. "It just goes to show you the type of players and people that we have within our organization that are able to just come into a situation like this and are able to respond. ... Winning is contagious throughout the entire organization. ... It's pretty special what the Tampa Bay Rays are doing this year."
Game 1 of the International League Finals is Tuesday at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
In other International League playoff action:
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 7, Lehigh Valley 2
The bold speed of Quintin Berry produced the tying run in the ninth inning for the RailRiders as the 33-year-old scored from second on Shane Robinson's two-out infield hit. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre took the lead on Ryan McBroom's groundout in the 10th, but Bruce Caldwell put the game out of reach with a long grand slam. Danny Ortiz had three hits, including a homer, for Lehigh Valley. Phillies No. 8 prospect Ranger Suarez yielded a run on three hits and two walks with five strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings. Gameday box score