CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas -- The Texas League Championship Series has shown that anything can happen in the playoffs.
In the regular season, the Corpus Christi Hooks and Wichita Wranglers were very different teams. The Hooks had one of the league's best pitching staffs, ranking second in ERA and hits allowed. The Wranglers struggled on the mound but boasted the league's most explosive offense, tops in the circuit in hits and runs scored.
Each team had its own identity.
But when they met in Wichita for the first two games of the Championship Series, those identities got a little confused.
In a Game 1 slugfest, the Hooks beat the Wranglers, 11-5, as Hunter Pence and Walter Young each contributed three hits and four RBIs. Similarly, Corpus Christi dominated Game 3, winning 9-3.
In a Game 2 pitchers' duel, the offensive-minded Wranglers came out on top, 2-1, getting a superb performance from starter Billy Buckner, who allowed three hits and one earned run while striking out eight in seven innings.
"I think that's just one of our pitchers stepping up. We struggled offensively, but (Buckner) stepped up, helped us out and gave us a chance to win," said Wranglers third baseman Alex Gordon, the Texas League Player of the Year and Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year. "Sometimes you have to find a different way to win in the playoffs."
Hooks center fielder Josh Anderson agreed that the playoffs are unpredictable.
"We're glad we did what we had to do up there (by getting the split on the road)," he said. "We wish we could have won that last game, but we're happy with it. Obviously, (the Wranglers) have great hitters, but they have great pitchers, too. You're going to run into a pitcher having a great day, and we did.
"Buckner did a great job and he kept his team in the game the whole time. He was throwing well, keeping our hitters off-balance."
As Game 4 approaches on Friday, there's no telling which teams will show up at Corpus Christi's Whataburger Field. After all, it is the postseason and anything can happen.
JUST LIKE THEY LIKE IT: Like Game 3, the final two games of the Championship Series will be played in Corpus Christi.
The Hooks had the Texas League's best home record, going 47-23 at Whataburger Field. They have won their last four home series, dating to July, and opened the playoffs with two home wins over the RockHounds, who had swept the Hooks in four games in Midland just a week earlier.
"We have a lot of confidence playing at home. I don't know what it is or why, but we're tough to beat here," Hooks outfielder Hunter Pence said. "Things just seem to bounce our way. A lot of it has to do with us feeding off the energy of these great fans. It's a great atmosphere to play in. But we can't worry about all the other stuff, we just have to go out there and get it done on the field."
The Wranglers, meanwhile, went 2-5 at Whataburger Field during the season. But Wichita manager Frank White isn't concerned with regular-season statistics.
"I don't think that is something that is going to have any bearing on how we play," he said. "I think right now, you're in the playoffs. (At this point), I think the players all have the same amount of intensity, the same amount of desire. The adrenaline has to flow the same way in everyone. When you're playing in front of big crowds and you're the opposing team, you just have to use that as a positive.
"The best way to quiet a loud crowd is to score runs. We just need to go out there and play our game and hopefully get on the board quick. Right now, it's all about adrenaline. It's all about throwing everything that's happened during the regular season out the window and giving it your best shot for a handful of games."
NEXT UP: Tyler Lumsden will take the mound to try to even the series for the Wranglers on Friday night. He was winless in two starts against the Hooks during the season, allowing four earned runs in 10 2/3 innings.
"I'm just going to take it as another start, just go out there and do what I've been doing, throwing strikes, trying to get ahead of hitters, and go from there," Lumsden said. "We have a team that can put some runs on the board and if I pitch well, everything else will fall into place."
Lumsden will face southpaw Troy Patton, who won Game 2 of the South Division Finals. In two starts against Wichita, Patton was 1-0 with a 1.98 ERA, striking out 12 in 13 2/3 innings.