Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo had his pick for an International League semifinals MVP long before J.J. Furmaniak proved to be Sunday's gamebreaker.
Furmaniak hit a go-ahead solo homer in the top of the fifth inning as defending champion Durham clinched a return to the International League Governors' Cup Finals by beating Louisville, 4-2, on Sunday.
Discussing the series with coaches prior to Game 1, Montoyo had a good feeling about the 30-year-old second baseman.
"We were talking about it before the series started and we were thinking about who would be the series MVP and someone said Joe Dillon and I said Furmaniak," Montoyo said. "He was big all series and even caught the last out and made a nice play on it. Furmaniak was the MVP of the series to me."
Furmaniak, originally a 22nd-round pick by the Padres in 2000, hit .412 during the five-game series with the Bats and scored five times. He caught Michael Griffin's popout to close out the game.
Bulls' starter Bobby Livingston (1-0) allowed two runs on four hits over five innings for the win. Joe Bateman surrendered a hit over 2 2/3 frames and Winston Abreu notched the final four outs of the game for his save. Montoyo credited the consistency of his bullpen for the Bulls' success.
"For two or three years now, they are the reason we are here," Montoyo said. "If our starters can take us through six, we like our chances. Winston Abreu, Jake McGee, Dale Thayer and R.J. Swindle ... the games that we won were close and it was up to the bullpen and they did an outstanding job."
The Bulls swept Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the 2009 Governors' Cup Finals. Durham will look to become the first team to win in back-to-back years since Toledo managed the feat in 2005-'06.
"It's never 'been there, done that,'" Montoyo said. "It's great, we don't take it for granted. It's not that easy to do that with all the movement that happens. Never take it for granted, I'm very happy to go back to the Finals."
Leslie Anderson, whose five RBIs are tied for the International League playoffs lead with Columbus' Wes Hodges and Durham's Chris Richard, smacked a pair of doubles. Angel Chavez hit a run-scoring single, while Dillon walked and stole a base to set up another run.
Major League veteran Micah Owings (0-1) took the loss, allowing two hits, including Furmaniak's homer, over two innings.
The Bulls will travel to Columbus to open the best-of-5 series Tuesday. The Clippers defeated the Yankees in four games after reaching the playoffs as the Wild Card.