Trent Lare didn't expect to be pitching the decisive fifth game of the Florida State League Finals when he began the season with the independent Kalamazoo Kings.
But the 25-year-old left-hander responded to the pressure of the Tampa Yankees' biggest game of the year like a seasoned postseason veteran.
Lare struck out six over five one-hit innings and David Adams went 3-for-4 with two RBIs on Wednesday as Tampa captured its first outright championship in 15 years with a 5-2 victory over the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
"I consider it a blessing," said Lare, who was told by manager Luis Sojo before Game 3 that he would get the ball if the series went the distance. "It's a great feeling to come from the independent leagues and get picked up for my first chance at affiliated baseball.
"I was really excited to get the start and go out and give us a chance [to win the championship]."
Signed by New York in June, Lare went 3-2 with a 1.07 ERA and 38 strikeouts in six starts for short-season Staten Island before going 2-3 with a 2.76 ERA in seven outings at Class A Charleston.
Promoted to Tampa earlier this month, he allowed two runs on two hits over two innings against Brevard County on Sept. 6 before yielding a run on three hits in one inning against the Manatees in the Yankees' playoff opener two days later.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Kansas native had to wait out a 2 1/2-hour rain delay before taking the hill Wednesday, biding his time in the clubhouse before coming through with his best performance as a professional.
"He has good stuff, throws strikes and [the Stone Crabs] have problems with lefties," noted Sojo, who won four World Series as a utility infielder with the Yankees from 1996-2000.
"He gave us five strong innings and that was good for him."
Lare silenced the crowd of 1,533 by holding the Stone Crabs hitless before Gregory Sexton delivered a two-out single in the fourth.
Lare got Matt Sweeney to pop out to end the inning before working a 1-2-3 fifth, paving the way for the Yankees' first outright title since 1994. Tampa earned a share of the FSL championship in both 2001 and 2004.
Hector Noesi followed Lare by giving up two runs on four hits and a walk with two strikeouts over 2 1/3 frames before ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte and Noel Castillo combined to get the final two outs in the eighth.
Castillo worked around a one-out single by Henry Wrigley in the ninth for his second playoff save as Shawn Williams grounded into a game-ending double play to set off the Yankees' celebration.
Adams, New York's third-round pick in 2008, doubled and scored in the fourth to snap a scoreless deadlock and capped a three-run fifth with a two-run single.
Walter Ibarra ripped an RBI double and scored for Tampa, which swept Brevard County in the opening round after going a league-best 47-19 to grab the second-half North Division crown. The Yankees went 30-37 in the first half.
"The difference was that they got the message," Sojo said of the turnaround. "You have to bounce back from a tough first half, and they kept working hard and did the little things. I kept telling those guys they could do it and they started believing in themselves."
Charlotte starter Brian Flores (0-1) took the loss, yielding an unearned run on two hits and a walk with two strikeouts in three innings.
Drew Anderson drove in both runs for the Stone Crabs, who came up just short of winning it all in their inaugural season in Charlotte.