Thunder walk into Championship Series

Curtis helps Trenton finish off first-round sweep of Portland

(Trenton Thunder)

By Danny Wild / Special to MLB.com | September 5, 2008 7:30 PM

After battling for eight innings Friday night, the Trenton Thunder literally walked their way into the Eastern League Finals.

Colin Curtis went 4-for-4 and drew a bases-loaded walk to force home the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning as the Thunder edged the Portland Sea Dogs, 5-4, to return to the Championship Series.

"I wouldn't call it easy, but we had a great series," said Curtis. "It came down to one run, and the last two we had to battle from behind. Hopefully, we'll keep it rolling."

The Yankees' affiliate will face Akron or Bowie for a chance to win their second straight Eastern League title.

Portland reliever Miguel Asencio (0-1) gave up a one-out single in the ninth to Ramiro Pena before walking Austin Jackson, Carlos Mendoza and Curtis to break a 4-4 tie.

"We started off with a pop fly that fell in and it kind of put some pressure on him," Curtis said. "I got up there, and I don't know if he was pressing, but he couldn't find the zone. It was great. We had good at-bats and really put the pressure on."

Curtis, who could have hit for the cycle in dramatic fashion with a grand slam, said he was content with simply putting his team ahead.

"Honestly, it would have been nice to cap it off with a grand slam, but in that situation I'm just trying to put together a good at-bat," he said. "Our team is scrappy, we just find a way to win. It's what we've been doing all year."

The Thunder rallied an inning earlier against Bryson Cox as Pena walked, Chris Malec was hit by a pitch, Curtis singled and Francisco Cervelli was plunked to forge a 4-4 tie.

Curtis, a former fourth-round pick out of Arizona State University, lined an RBI triple and scored in the second, doubled and scored again in the fourth and singled in the sixth and eighth.

"It feels really good to be able to have that success in the playoffs and help the team move on," he said. "I was seeing the ball well and putting some good swings on the ball. I'm feeling good."

Kevin Whelan (1-0) struck out five of the six batters he faced for the win before Michael Dunn fanned two in the ninth for his first postseason save.

All-Star Jason Jones got the start for Tenton and allowed four runs on six hits over six innings.

"Our pitching staff has been unbelievable," Curtis said. "It definitely it gives us a lot of confidence."

Trenton was 4-3 against Akron during the season but hit just .233. The Thunder were 1-5 vs. Bowie.

"Having the chance for a couple days off, we can rest up. We've played them both a couple times, so we know what we're up against," said Curtis. "They're both really good teams. We've got a lot of confidence, we've won three a row."

Asencio was charged with one run on a hit and three walks over 1 1/3 innings. Sea Dogs starter Ryne Lawson allowed three runs on five hits over four frames.

Lars Anderson and Mickey Hall homered for Portland, which lost to Trenton in four games in the first round last year.

Danny Wild 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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