MOOSIC, Pa. -- Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was on the verge of being no-hit. Well, sort of.
The Yankees collected only four hits against Durham on Wednesday night. By the time Bernie Castro delivered the game-winning single in the bottom of the 13th inning, they had gone 7 1/3 innings without collecting a hit. Castro, however, ended Durham's "no-hit" bid by stroking Ben Hendrickson's 3-2 offering into left-center field, scoring Chris Stewart with the game's only run.
The 1-0 victory, before 3,111 fans at PNC Field, put the Yankees in position to complete the Governors' Cup sweep Thursday night in Durham and claim their first International League championship. A win also would put Scranton/Wilkes-Barre into the Bricktown Showdown against the Pacific Coast League champion on Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
Stewart had led off the 13th with a walk, the sixth issued by Durham pitchers and fourth in extra innings. Justin Christian moved him over to second with a bunt, setting up Castro to give the Yanks their third consecutive victory in their final at-bat.
"I was just trying to win the game," said Castro, who was 0-for-3 with two walks prior to his at-bat in the 13th. "He threw the first two pitches down. And then when he went to a full count, I was looking for a pitch right down the middle and I hit the ball well.
"It was a slider that stayed right down the middle. Their pitchers had been good all game, nasty. But I feel happy now, and tomorrow we can go out and win it. I'm putting it in my head the series is tied 2-2 and tomorrow is the last game."
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen deserves as much credit as Castro, throwing eight scoreless innings, the final 6 1/3 of which were hitless. Oneli Perez pitched a perfect 13th to earn the victory. The bullpen's effort was quite a contrast from the one put forth by starter Ian Kennedy.
Durham's Mitch Talbot and Kennedy locked up in a bizarre pitching duel, with Talbot playing the part of ace and Kennedy looking every bit like a magician to start the game. Talbot, whose previous two playoff starts for the Bulls produced an 0-2 record and a 24.90 ERA in 4 1/3 innings, was brilliant. He tossed eight shutout innings, scattered three hits and struck out eight but was left unfulfilled by an offense incapable of producing in big spots.
Some of Durham's inability to score had to do with Kennedy, who alternated between brilliant and brutal, often within the same inning. But it certainly didn't help the Bulls that they were playing without their two most productive hitters. Dan Johnson and Joel Guzman, who combined for 45 homers and 155 RBIs, were part of roster moves made Tuesday by Tampa Bay. The parent club called up Johnson while designating Guzman for assignment.
So while Kennedy continually whetted the Bulls' appetites, particularly in the first two innings, Durham didn't have the big bopper who could knock the youngster out of the game. Kennedy loaded the bases in each of the first two innings, but worked his way out with strikeouts on both occasions.
Chris Nowak's single to right loaded the bases in the first, a single that under normal circumstances would have scored Jon Weber. But the Bulls right fielder has been nursing a sore groin and didn't try to score on the hit. Kennedy then struck out Elliot Johnson to end the threat. Jorge Velandia drew a two-out walk to load the bases in the second, but Kennedy responded again by fanning Jonny Gomes.
The fourth proved particularly painful for the Bulls, who benefited from consecutive walks to Gabby Martinez and Matt Spring. That brought up Rashad Eldridge, who took a high fastball in a bunting situation. Martinez took off on the pitch, though, and was picked off by Stewart, who fired to shortstop Nick Green, who threw Martinez out as he attempted to advance.
Eldridge followed with a single to put runners on the corners, but Weber hit into an inning ending double play.
Velandia and Gomes started the fifth with back-to-back singles, but Kennedy responded by striking out the side, ending his very bizarre evening after throwing 106 pitches and stranding nine runners. The Bulls also put two men on in the seventh against Steven Jackson, but Nowak ended that rally by hitting into a double play, leaving the Bulls 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position through the first seven innings.
"We would have liked a few more innings out of Ian," Yankees manager Dave Miley said. "But if we had given up eight runs early, it would have been a whole different game. The guys deserve a lot of credit.
"If it's a three-game series there [in Durham], we just have to win one and take it. Hopefully, we'll be able to pitch well and score."
This and that: There was some scuttlebutt on the blog circuit Wednesday that Evan Longoria (wrist) might be rehabbing with the Bulls for at least one game when the club returns to Durham for Games 3-5. If that does happen, it will be news to manager Charlie Montoyo. "This is the first I'm hearing of it," he said. "The funny thing is, though, that he probably does need to play somewhere. He's an All-Star and all, but it isn't easy to play after being out a month. But then again, maybe he could do it." Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, however, all but ruled out Longoria joining Durham. ... Speaking of wrist injuries, SS Reid Brignac took grounders before Wednesday's game but won't be activated for this series. He's still recovering from the fractured wrist he suffered on Aug. 6 when Richmond's Jo-Jo Reyes plunked him. "The fracture has healed, but the bone chip is what the doctor is worried about," Brignac said. "That will take care of itself, though. If I needed surgery, they would have taken it out five weeks ago. I'm getting stronger and stronger. I'm sore after working out, but it's a good sore and it's not pain." Brignac will begin playing games later this month in Instructional League. ... Durham CF Nathan Haynes, who's been battling through a shoulder injury for the better part of a month, was a late scratch from the starting lineup. Rashad Eldridge, who was called up from Double-A Montgomery and had two hits Tuesday, moved from left to center while Gomes moved from DH to left. Gabby Martinez also joined the club from Montgomery on Wednesday and started at DH. He hit .276 with 20 homers and 93 RBIs for the Biscuits. He, along with Spring, meant that a third of Durham's Game 2 lineup finished up the season in the Southern League. ... Durham LHP and Game 1 starter David Price, the top pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, was named as USA Today's Minor League Player of the Year. ... Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Nick Green left the game midway through his fifth-inning at-bat with a back injury after swinging awkwardly at a Talbot offering. Chris Basak came on to finish the at-bat and struck out. The whiff was credited to Green, whose status for Thursday's game is unknown. ... Jeff Niemann, the Game 4 starter for the Bulls, flew to Durham on Wednesday night, while Yankees LHP Kei Igawa remained with the team. ... The teams combined for 32 strikeouts. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pitchers tied a franchise record for strikeouts in a game with 17, matching the mark set against Durham on June 10, 2007. Chris Richard struck out four times, while Gomes and Johnson each fanned three times. Juan Miranda, Ben Broussard and Eric Duncan each struck out three times for the Yanks. There were 374 pitches thrown in the game.