Going for a sweep, Triple-A Durham had to be feeling confident in its chances. It's not often a former Cy Young Award winner starts a potential clincher in the Minors.
In his first start rehabbing from an elbow injury, the Rays' Blake Snell wasn't long for Game 3, but his Bulls teammates were in it all the way Saturday, completing a three-game sweep of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with a 17-2 rout that sends them to the Governors' Cup Finals.
Video: Durham Bulls advance to IL Finals
Before Snell even took the mound, Durham had scored four runs off RailRiders starter Nick Nelson in an outburst capped by a two-run double from Rocky Gale.
"You didn't know what was going to happen," Bulls manager Brady Williams said. "Scranton's a really, really good team. I thought if we could come out with a couple of runs in the first inning that would be huge for us. Obviously, we came out with four."
Gameday box score
Gale added another RBI with a single in the third, and Jason Coats put the game out of reach with a three-run homer in the fourth. Nathan Lukes drove in two more with a double the next inning. Dalton Kelly scored four runs and was on base four times, with three hits and a walk. His three-run dinger in the ninth put an exclamation point on the blowout.
Video: Durham's Gales lines two-run double
Behind the offensive barrage was a splendid pitching performance, and it wasn't Snell's. The southpaw sat between 94-96 mph with his fastball and exited after recording two outs -- both strikeouts -- with the bases loaded on two hits and two walks with an earned run already in. But having Snell around was a positive for the Bulls.
"Blake's in the clubhouse. He's loose. He's relaxed," the manager said. "I think it kind of helps the guys kind of get loose and relax and do what they did."
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Aaron Slegers has been designated for assignment four times this year -- by the Twins, Pirates and twice by the Rays -- with the most recent reassignment coming five days ago. He entered in the first and escaped Snell's jam to preserve the early lead. The right-hander cruised through 6 1/3 scoreless innings while allowing three hits and striking out eight without issuing a walk.
"I can't speak enough about him. He's brought it every single day," Williams said. "He got through a lot of struggles early and then he kind of found his groove. Since he found his groove, he's been our best pitcher, if not one of the best pitchers in the league over the course of the last two months."
Slegers threw 65 of 95 pitches for strikes to pick up where he left off in August, when he posted a 1.91 ERA for Durham.
Top Yankees top prospect Deivi Garcia struggled, particularly with his control, during one inning-plus out of the bullpen. The Bulls tagged him for five earned runs on a pair of hits and four walks.
Durham will face Gwinnett in the Governors' Cup finals starting Monday in Columbus.
"Just continue what we've been doing," Williams said. "Have fun. Play for your teammates."
In other Governors' Cup action:
Clippers 5, Stripers 4
After dropping Game 3, Columbus did not squander its opportunity to end the best-of-5 series in Game 4. Trailing, 4-3, in the eighth, Connor Marabell laced a two-out, two-run double that put the Clippers ahead for good. Seventh-ranked Indians prospect Bobby Bradley knocked in a run with a single, while Ka'ai Tom finished a triple shy of the cycle. No. 6 Braves prospect Bryse Wilson turned in a quality start despite heavy traffic during his six innings on the bump. The righty yielded three earned runs on 10 hits and a walk, and he fanned six. Jack Lopez staked Wilson a 4-3 lead with a two-run homer in the fifth. Top-ranked Atlanta prospect Cristian Pache doubled and had a run-scoring groundout. Gameday box score