In a season of firsts, the IronPigs have put themselves in position to achieve the ultimate one.
Brian Bass tossed a five-hitter Saturday as Lehigh Valley shut down the Pawtucket Red Sox, 3-1, to sweep their way into the Governors' Cup Finals.
The 29-year-old right-hander yielded an unearned run, walked two and struck out two. He took a shutout into the ninth inning before allowing a leadoff single Hector Luna, who advancedon a throwing error by third baseman Kevin Frandsen, stole third and scored on Will Middlebrooks' sacrifice fly.
Bass (1-0), who has not given up an earned run in his last three starts, retired Luis Exposito on a groundout and Jose Iglesias on a fly ball to center field on his 120th pitch.
"Brian Bass has brought his veteranship to the team, especially down the stretch with quality outings and really being the ace of the staff," IronPigs manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Really since the [All-Star break], he's stepped it up a notch and has risen to the occasion and to the title of being the ace."
Sandberg, completing his first season with Lehigh Valley, has guided the IronPigs to the first winning season in club history and their first appearance in the International League Championship Series.
"It's a good group of guys that we've got together, that formed as a team and caught on to the team concept of pulling for each other and playing the game of baseball the right way. And this is where it's got them," the Hall of Famer said. "They've done it, they've worked hard and I'm very proud to see the progress and where we're at right now.
"This has been a group that has risen to the occasion all year. Whether it was to come back after a losing streak or losing players, they've found a way to get the job done."
Sandberg has a .516 winning percentage over five seasons as a manager, the first four of which came in the Cubs organization. The transition to the Phillies, the team that drafted him in 1978, has been an easy one.
"It's been a great move. It's been very comfortable right from the start," he said. "It's an organizational philosophy that starts from the top and works its way down to the Minor Leagues.
"It's been a gratifying year and it's been fun to watch what's happened in Lehigh Valley, a place that has tremendous fan support. And now they are enjoying the postseason for the first time."
Frandsen drove in two runs with a pair of groundouts and Jeremy Barfield homered for the IronPigs. Rich Thompson doubled, stole a base and scored twice.
Starter Alex Wilson (0-1) gave up all three runs on three hits over seven innings for Pawtucket, which was making its first postseason appearance since 2008.
Lehigh Valley will play Columbus in the best-of-5 Championship Series, beginning Tuesday at Huntington Park.