Niemann flirts with playoff no-hitter

Former top pick shuts down Bats, gives Bulls 2-1 series lead

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By John Torenli / Special to | September 6, 2008 7:26 PM

A 19-minute power outage on Saturday night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park was just about the only thing that slowed Jeff Niemann.

The 25-year-old right-hander took a no-hitter into the eighth inning and struck out 11 as the Bulls took a 2-1 lead in their best-of-5 International League semifinal series with a 3-2 victory over the Louisville Bats.

After watching the Bats bang out 24 hits in Thursday's 19-3 Game 2 rout, Niemann (1-0) was in control from the outset. He worked around a walk and two errors over the first 4 1/3 frames before the lights went out in Durham.

"That was something that I never had to deal with before," Niemann admitted. "But they got [the lights] back on pretty soon and I was able to go back out there."

The brief delay did nothing to curb Niemann's dominance as he set down the next four batters.

Things got interesting in the fifth as Tampa's 2004 first-round pick issued back-to-back walks to Adam Rosales and Kevin Barker. But after a visit from pitching coach Xavier Hernandez, Niemman recorded the first of five straight strikeouts by fanning Drew T. Anderson.

"It was a little mechanical defect pitching out of the stretch," Niemann said of his brief bout with his control. "But the pitching coach came out and got me back into my rhythm."

Niemann's no-hit bid ended when Craig Tatum slammed a double off the center-field wall leading off the eighth. Danny Richar struck out and Drew Stubbs flied to center before Adam Rosales ripped a run-scoring single to shave the deficit to 3-1.

With the tying run at the plate, Niemann bore down and caught Barker looking at a third strike to end the inning. Barker took exception to the call and engaged in a prolonged argument with plate umpire Damien Beal as Niemann walked off the hill.

"I got him with the split," Niemann said. "It was a good pitch. I thought it was a strike, but I guess we had a difference of opinion."

Durham closer Scott Dohmann surrendered a leadoff homer to Anderson in the ninth but struck out Rob Mackowiak and Paul Janish around a flyout by Luis Bolivar as the Bulls moved within one victory of clinching a spot in the Governors' Cup Finals.

Niemann, who tossed a four-hit shutout against the Bats in his only other start against them this year, took a great deal of pride in pitching his team back into the series lead.

"I knew we needed to get back on track, but you can't put any extra pressure on yourself," he said. "I can't really say why, but I feel comfortable against these guys. Both times I've faced them have been pretty good."

Major League veteran Jonny Gomes staked Niemann to an early lead with a two-run homer in the opening frame and delivered the decisive run with an RBI single in the fifth.

Jon Weber went 2-for-4 with two runs scored for Durham, which posted a 3-0 victory in Game 1 behind the brilliant pitching of 2007 top overall pick David Price.

Louisville starter Adam Pettyjohn (0-1) did his best to keep the Bats in it, yielding three runs on 10 hits and a walk with seven strikeouts over 6 2/3 gritty frames.

But the Bats were unable to build on their big performance in Game 2 as Tatum, Anderson and Rosales provided the only hits.

Game 4 is Sunday in Durham.

John Torenli is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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