'Pen is mighty again for Mudcats

Carolina sweeps into Championship Series with 4-2 victory

(Nick Johnson)

By Steve Conley / Special to MLB.com | September 6, 2008 6:21 PM

The Carolina Mudcats will try to win the Southern League Championship the same way they cruised to the best regular-season record -- with strong starting pitching and a shutdown bullpen.

Brad Davis hit a three-run homer and three relievers combined on four scoreless innings Saturday as the Mudcats swept their way into the Southern League Finals with a 4-2 victory over the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx.

Carolina will play Mississippi or Birmingham as it tries to capture its first championship since 2003.

Davis, who also drove in three runs in the Mudcats' Game 2 win, went deep in the second inning after West Tenn scored twice in the opening frame, thanks to a throwing error by starting pitcher Brett Sinkbeil.

Chris De La Cruz, who went 6-for-11 with six RBIs during the best-of-5 series, preceded Davis' blast with a run-scoring single.

"It was huge for us to get the lead," Davis said. "It's easier to play in front than behind and makes the pitchers more at ease. It was a big confidence booster and gave us the momentum."

Sinkbeil (1-0) went five innings, allowing two unearned runs on four hits while striking out three and walking two. The Mudcats got five innings from their starting pitcher in each game, with the bullpen being handed a lead each time. Willie Glen allowed one run and struck out seven in the opener before Aaron Thompson allowed two runs in Game 2.

"They pitched with a lead the whole series, and that's huge," Davis said. "It gives them the ability to be real aggressive to the hitters and not be nervous about giving up a solo home run. It's been strike one to just about every batter, and they all have an out pitch to mix in and keep the hitters guessing."

Sinkbeil handed the ball to his dependable bullpen, one that had pitched four shutout innings in each of the previous two contests. Jeff Gogal tossed the fifth and Ryan Tucker followed with two scoreless innings, bringing his total for the series to four. Chris Mobley worked around a walk and a single in the ninth to notch the save.

"The past few months, the bullpen has stepped up," Davis said. "They come in and expect to get it done, and you can't ask for much more. They come in with the lead and just shut 'em down the rest of the way. It's been our strength all year."

The Mudcats will host the first two games of the best-of-5 Championship Series.

"I think we have a great chance," said Davis. "We're playing great baseball, swinging the bats well and pitching. If that carries over, we're pretty confident we can win the whole thing."

West Tenn starter Luis Munoz (0-1) allowed four runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out six over six innings.

Gregory Halman went 3-for-5 with a run scored and Thomas Hubbard singled and scored for the Diamond Jaxx.

Steve Conley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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