Brett Sinkbeil collected as many hits as he gave up Thursday night. That's a winning formula for any starting pitcher.
The 23-year-old right-hander fired six scoreless innings and went 2-for-3 with an RBI as the Carolina Mudcats took a 2-1 lead in their best-of-5 Southern League Championship Series with a 9-3 victory over the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park.
Sinkbeil (2-0), who managed only one hit in 36 regular-season at-bats, aided his own cause when he followed Lee Mitchell's RBI double in the fifth inning with a run-scoring base hit to center field for a 3-0 lead.
Florida's first-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft singled again in the seventh, but was pulled for a pinch-runner before a torrential downpour caused the game to be delayed for 93 minutes.
"The six scoreless innings were bigger than the two hits," joked Sinkbeil, who finished the season in an 0-for-24 slump at the plate.
Despite his unexpected production at the plate, it was on the mound that Sinkbeil truly shined. He yielded a leadoff single to Kala Ka'aihue in the second and a two-out double to Jordan Schafer in the fourth while striking out five and walking two en route to his second straight postseason win.
Sinkbeil gave up a pair of unearned runs on four hits over five innings in Saturday's series-clinching 4-2 victory over the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx in the opening round.
"I kind of struggled in my first [postseason] start, but my defense picked me up and made some good plays," Sinkbeil said. "I was just trying to get ahead and use my slider because I was able to throw that pitch and get ahead for strikes."
When play resumed, Carolina reliever Ryan Tucker walked the bases loaded before striking out Greg Creek to escape the seventh. But Jarrett Santos was reached for three runs on two hits and two walks while retiring one batter in the eighth before Todd Doolittle restored order by getting the final two outs of the inning.
Jacob Marceaux struck out one in a perfect ninth as the Mudcats moved within one victory of their first championship since 2003.
"It's huge to know that we need one win in the next two," Sinkbeil said. "It's a situation where you want to come out tomorrow and get this thing over with."
Southern League Most Valuable Player Gaby Sanchez provided the biggest blow of the night, crushing a leadoff homer in the sixth that was estimated at 440 feet. Sanchez added singles in the eighth and ninth to boost his postseason batting average to .500 (13-for-26).
"Winning the MVP was fantastic," Sanchez said. "But the team part of it is to go out and win a championship. Being known as the champions of the Southern League is a big deal for everybody."
Mitchell delivered an RBI triple during a four-run eighth as Carolina opened a comfortable 8-0 lead.
Scott Cousins lifted a pair of sacrifice flies and John Raynor and Brad Davis each went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored for the Mudcats, who improved to 5-1 in the playoffs.
Mississippi starter Thomas Hanson (0-1) surrendered four runs on nine hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in six innings. The homer to Sanchez was the first he allowed in 33 2/3 innings.
Schafer went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs for the Braves, who have dropped two straight since pulling out a dramatic 5-4, 10-inning victory in Game 1.
Game 4 is Friday in Mississippi.