Nate Johnson fired six strong innings Saturday as the Clearwater Threshers rolled to an 8-1 victory over the Brevard County Manatees in Game 1 of the Florida State League Finals.
Johnson allowed a run on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts as the Threshers took the opener of the best-of-5 series. The 25-year-old right-hander, who made only five starts during the regular season, led Clearwater to its third straight playoff win following a series-opening 2-0 loss to Sarasota in the opening round.
"To win those two in a row was a big momentum-builder for us," said Johnson, who began the season with Double-A Reading. "I just wanted to give my team a chance to win tonight and keep that momentum on our side.
"It was a great atmosphere tonight. The crowd was really into it. I just wanted to go at them with fastballs, and the defense played great behind me."
Cory Willey walked one and struck out five in two scoreless innings before Brett Harker allowed a hit and fanned one in the ninth as Clearwater moved within two wins of its first FSL title since 1993.
Jake Blalock went 3-for-5 and snapped a scoreless tie in the fifth with a three-run homer, his first of the playoffs.
P.J. Antoniato and Brad Harman added RBI singles later in the frame as the Threshers opened a 5-0 lead. Harman added a two-run blast, his first, in the ninth.
Brian Burgamy, who delivered a go-ahead RBI single in the deciding game against Sarasota, went 3-for-4 with a run-scoring single in the seventh. Clay Harris had two hits and scored twice for Clearwater, which took five of eight regular-season meetings with the Manatees.
"We're just taking it one game at a time," said Johnson. "[Game 2 starter Andrew] Cruse will give us a good chance tomorrow and hopefully the offense will come through again and we can get a win."
Manatees starter Rafael Lluberes (0-1) gave up four runs on eight hits and four walks while striking out three over 4 1/3 frames.
Mat Gamel belted a solo homer, his first, in the fifth for Brevard County.