SALEM, Va. - Call him "The Clincher."
Chorye Spoone tossed his second postseason complete game and his second series clincher Tuesday night as the Frederick Keys won the Mills Cup championship with a 5-1 victory over the Salem Avalanche.
Only five days ago, Spoone pitched 8 2/3 hitless innings before "settling" for a one-hit complete-game win in the Northern Division title game against the Wilmington Blue Rocks.
This time, he allowed the Avalanche -- the best hitting team in the Carolina League -- to collect 11 hits but scattered them widely enough that the hosts didn't get on the scoreboard until the ninth.
Taking that shutout into the ninth against a team that not only batted .271 during the year but had hit a robust .304 against Frederick in 20 regular-season games earned Spoone MVP honors for the championship series. And while his semifinal heroics didn't technically factor into the voting, his total postseason dominance on the mound was very much in people's minds.
"I'd never done what I did before, carrying a no-no into the ninth inning," said Spoone, who was 10-9 with a 3.26 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 152 innings during the season. "But this one gave us the ring. That was the most fun I've ever had."
Interim manager J.J. Cannon and the Keys certainly had the man they wanted taking the hill with the title on the line.
"Honestly, I couldn't imagine any team dominating him tonight, with the confidence he has and the confidence the team has behind him," Cannon said of the 21-year-old right-hander, who ended the season by allowing three earned runs over his final 32 innings. "We felt all we needed to do was score one run for him and he'd close the door."
The title was the second in three years for the Keys, who prior to that had won the championship just once, back in 1990.
Frederick became only the third team in the 63-year history of the Class A league to win the title after posting a losing record during the regular season as they finished 10 games under .500 at 64-74. The Keys had become the first squad in league history to win a half-season title with a losing mark, taking the first-half title in the Northern Division at 32-37.
But the club, decided underdogs in both the Northern Division Finals against the second-half champion Blue Rocks and in the Mills Cup Finals against the Southern Division champion Avalanche (79-60), put it all together at exactly the right time.
The Keys swept Wilmington in the best-of-3 series to enter the finals feeling like anything but underdogs. Despite having lost 14 of 20 regular-season meetings with Salem, Frederick took the series opener, 3-2, to serve notice.
After falling, 8-4, to Salem to send the series back to Virginia knotted at 1-1, the Keys won the next two games to take the Mills Cup trophy back to Maryland.
And when they get back there, Tommy Thompson will be waiting to celebrate with them.
The Keys manager, in his first year with the Baltimore Orioles organization, led the team to the title but was absent from the dugout for the championship series after getting hospitalized the morning of Game 1 with acute diverticulitis.
Thompson, who listened to the games via the Internet on a laptop provided by Keys management, was released from the hospital on Tuesday afternoon but was not deemed well enough to make the four-hour drive down to Salem.
"I know if he was here right now he'd have been the first one to the mound to get to me, even before the catcher got there," laughed Spoone. "But it will be awesome going back home and bringing the ring to him. He was the heart of this team."
Cannon, the team's hitting coach who took over the managerial reins in Thompson's absence, agreed.
"We love Tommy Thompson," he said. "It's so good to know we won this for him. I'm sure he's jumping up and down, as sore as he might be."
The Keys wasted no time winning one for Tommy, taking a 1-0 lead off Salem starter Polin Trinidad in the second inning on Mark Fleisher's solo homer to left field. They tacked on two runs in the fifth as Brent Krause doubled home Pete Maestrales, then scored on Kennard Jones' single to left.
Knowing that no lead was safe against a potent Salem offense, the Keys continued to chip away, thanks to run-scoring singles by Krause in the sixth and Maestrales in the eighth.
That 5-0 cushion heading into the ninth gave them some breathing room when Spoone finally began to flag a bit, allowing a run on three hits.
While Spoone was the official MVP of the series, it would have been hard to single out one offensive force for the Keys in the playoffs. One of the singular characteristics of Frederick's postseason run was the fact that a different player or players stepped up and played the hero in each game.
"I'm just elated for the whole team, the whole staff and the whole organization," said a champagne-soaked Cannon. "To watch them come from where we were, it's an awesome feeling. This is a great finish."
NOTES: Taking into account his seven-inning gem in his final game of the regular season, Spoone finished 2007 with three consecutive complete games. ... This marked the third year in a row that Frederick played in the Mills Cup Finals. The Keys fell to Kinston in 2006 after beating the Indians in 2005. ... While this was the Keys' fourth trip to the Finals since their inception in 1989, it marked the first time they ever faced Salem in the postseason.