Matt Yourkin held the season in his left hand Friday night, entering in the eighth inning of a must-win playoff game for the Connecticut Defenders in enemy territory.
In his mind, he'd been there before.
"You always think about these situations as a kid," said Yourkin, who had a 2.42 ERA and eight saves during the regular season. "You want to have the ball in your hand, and I'm glad it was me."
Yourkin pitched out of trouble in the eighth and ninth, allowing a run but stranding the tying run at third base as Connecticut beat the Akron Aeros, 8-7, to avoid a sweep in the Eastern League Championship Series.
"I grew up thinking about this kind of thing, and you get the chance to finally do it," said Yourkin. "It was the most fun I've had in a baseball game in my career."
Two days after suffering the loss in Game 2, Yourkin made a leaping snowcone stab to save a run on a comebacker with one out in the ninth before inducing a game-ending pop-up to force a fourth game in the best-of-5 series.
"It was one of those nights. Things happen," said Yourkin. "Tonight was very fun."
The 28-year-old left-hander picked up his second postseason save, 48 hours after he served up a three-run homer to Josh Rodriguez in the ninth to blow a save at Dodd Stadium in Connecticut. He said he was glad he got a second chance.
On Friday, Yourkin came on in the eighth to face the heart of the Aeros' lineup with the Defenders nursing a 7-6 lead and the tying run at second. All he did was strike out Eastern League MVP Carlos Santana and Beau Mills.
"I wanted to get out there, for sure," he said. "I just like to pitch after something like that happens. I want to get right out there. If something happens, [manager Steve Decker] will try to get you out there to get you back into the rhythm."
Mike McBryde had three of Connecticut's 11 hits and knocked in a pair of runs before catching the final out in the ninth. The center fielder is batting .452 in the postseason.
Mitch Lively (1-0) was credited with the win after holding Akron to a run over 2 1/3 innings in relief of starter Craig Clark, who was reached for four runs in 2 1/3 frames. The Defenders used six pitchers before Decker turned to Yourkin.
Carlos Rivero knocked home former first-round pick Lonnie Chisenhall in the ninth before Yourkin snagged Jared Goedert's one-out grounder back to the mound, saving the tying run from scoring.
Not exactly how he envisioned it as a kid.
"I asked some of the guys how hard it was hit, I thought it was hit 150 miles per hour," Yourkin laughed. "They said, 'No, it hit the dirt first, it wasn't hit that hard.' But I thought it was 150 coming back at me. I checked the runner, he was three-quarters the way to third. I threw to first, my heart was definitely rushing.
"It was the most pressure-filled throw throw to first I've ever made."
Former eighth-round pick Eric Berger (1-1) started for Akron and was charged with six runs -- five earned -- on five hits and four walks with two strikeouts over three-plus innings.
Akron took the lead in the first when Jose Constanza scored on Santana's double play. The Defenders answered with two in the third and, after giving up three runs an inning later, regained the lead with four in the fourth.
"We kinda figured from the first inning on it'd be that kind of that game tonight," Yourkin said. "I said to my buddy, Griff (Dan Griffin), 'This is going to be a weird game tonight, everyone needs to to be ready to throw.'"
Connecticut added a key run in the ninth when Bobby Felmy doubled home Brad Boyer. It ended up being just enough.
"We came out on the better end," Yourkin said. "They're definitely a good team. It was a very fun game."
The teams will meet again Saturday night in Akron in another must-win situation for the Defenders.
"They're a tough team to play at home, but hopefully, we jump on them early tomorrow and go get them," Yourkin said. "Our backs are against the wall, but we play hard. I think we can do this."