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Braves win the Governors' Cup

Clark's three-run blast powers Richmond past Durham, 7-2
September 15, 2007
RICHMOND, Va. -- Led Zeppelin's "The Immigrant Song" blares over the loudspeakers at The Diamond each time Doug Clark steps to the plate. An apropos choice considering that it truly appeared as if he borrowed a line in the song and swung "the hammer of the gods" Saturday night for Richmond.

Clark smoked a stunning home run in the first inning of Game 5 for Braves, a rocket of a shot off Durham's Mitch Talbot that slammed into the right-field foul pole. The ferocity of the three-run blast quickly erased any doubt as to what the outcome would be, propelling Richmond to a 7-2 victory and the Governors' Cup title.

The Braves entered Saturday on the brink of elimination, trailing in the best-of-5 series, 2-1. But they used a late outburst to win the opening game of the doubleheader, 6-2, then rode Clark's blast to victory in the nightcap. The wins gave Richmond its fifth Governors' Cup title and first since 1994. They also put the Braves in Tuesday's Bricktown Showdown in Oklahoma City against Pacific Coast League champion Sacramento.

Clark, whose playoff batting average was .193 heading into Game 5, came to the plate with two outs and Talbot struggling to get out of the first unscathed. After looking at a ball, Clark ripped the next offering down the line and into the pole, knocking off a portion of the advertisement that hung on it. The ball was hit so hard it rolled all the way back to third base.

"I knew our team has been playing well, but I felt that I hadn't been coming through in tight games," Clark said. "It was a 1-0 slider, and all series long I was laying off those and I didn't want to give in to the off-speed stuff."

So shaken was Talbot that he served up a homer to Carlos Mendez on the very next pitch. Though the Bulls tried to chip away at the deficit, the overwhelming manner in which they fell behind early made it a foregone conclusion as to which team would be headed to Bricktown.

"Regardless of what Doug says, he's helped us in all different ways," Richmond manager Dave Brundage said. "He's been a clubhouse leader, he's been instrumental in everything we've done and he's one of the few guys who has been here all year. I'm proud that it came down to him getting one of the biggest hits of the year."

Mendez delivered a run-scoring single in the third, while Clark added his fourth RBI on a fielder's choice an inning later.

While Talbot struggled, Richmond starter Kevin Barry had few problems. After being staked to a four-run lead, he settled in and made short work of the Bulls. Barry, who had a subpar outing in his opening-round start against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, looked strong in going five innings. He scattered three hits and tied a season high with eight strikeouts. His only blemish was a third-inning homer by Justin Ruggiano.

The Bulls managed only six hits in the nightcap and scored four runs in the two games. While it seemed like a daunting task when the day started, Clark said he had a good feeling about what the outcome would be.

"I had dinner with [Richmond right-hander] Chad Paronto last night and we were talking about it," Clark said. "We were teammates together at UMass and we went to the Atlantic-10 tournament in 1996 and we had to beat Virginia Tech twice to win. I told him there was a reason why we were here now, together with this team. It was almost like destiny, we were determined to win.

"This a great win for us and for Richmond. Now we're going to go to Oklahoma City and represent the International League."

As for the Zeppelin song, Clark's going to keep it as part of his repertoire, taking it to Bricktown with him.

"When I was struggling earlier this season, one of our clubhouse guys recommended it," Clark said. "It's a song I like, so I said let's do it."

Clark didn't use that hammer to drive Richmond "to new lands," just to Oklahoma City and a date with Sacramento.

Game 4: The Braves scored five runs over the seventh and eighth innings, snapping a 1-1 tie, to force the deciding game. Mike Rozema's RBI single got the seventh started. Brent Lillibridge also had a run-scoring RBI single and Brandon Jones padded the lead with a solo homer in the ninth before Wes Timmons chipped in another RBI single.

The late outburst overshadowed a strong day for both starting pitchers. Richmond's Jeff Bennett was coming back on three days' rest, while Jae Kuk Ryu hadn't pitched since Aug. 30. While Bennett struggled just a bit -- the Bulls had runners on in five of the six innings he worked -- he was able to make it through 81 pitches and give the Braves a chance in the nightcap.

Ryu, meanwhile, allowed only two hits in 5 2/3 innings, both of which came in the first.

NOTES: Durham was without closer Shawn Camp for both games. His mother died suddenly in her sleep Saturday morning, and he immediately left the team to be with his family. The Bulls played with his uniform hanging in the dugout and with black armbands on their jerseys. Camp had two saves and 1.59 ERA in five playoff appearances. ... In the "Hard to Figure Department," there was Bennett getting the nod for the Braves on Saturday afternoon. Atlanta policy dictated that Francisley Bueno get yanked Thursday night after reaching 99 pitches, despite throwing a no-hitter. Yet Bennett, who has been primarily a reliever all season, was allowed to come back on three days' rest and threw 81 pitches. Braves director of player development Kurt Kemp pointed to the fact that Bennett is older and more experienced in such situations as opposed to Bueno, who is younger and still developing as a contributing factor in the decision. ... When Ruggiano homered in the fourth inning of Game 4, it ended a 21-inning homerless stretch for the Bulls. Durham, which led the IL in homers during the regular season, had 10 in their opening-round victory over Toledo. The shot also halted a stretch of 38 1/3 homerless innings by Richmond pitchers. ... Game 5 started at 6:58 p.m. ET, despite a scheduled start time of 7 p.m. It marked the second time in the series that a game started early. Thursday's Game 3 started at 6:57, despite a 7 p.m. scheduled start time. ... When Richmond forced a deciding game it marked the 13th time that the IL finals have gone to a fifth game. There also were 13 seven-game finales before the league cut the final series back to five. ... Richmond improved to 68-72 all-time in Governors' Cup play. ... Saturday's doubleheader attendance was 4,510. Total attendance for the Governors' Cup Finals was 17,101. ... Lillibridge had an impressive Governors' Cup run, going 14-for-37 with seven runs scored. He capped his series with a spectacular defensive play in the sixth inning of Game 5, ranging far to his left onto the outfield grass behind second base to grab Chris Richards' grounder before throwing him out at first. ... The Bulls went 14-for-64 [.219] in the twinbill, leaving 15 men on base while striking out 20 times.

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for