Charlie Haeger wasn't on the 2012 Pawtucket team that won the franchise's first Governors' Cup since 1984. Neither were Chris Martin, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Anthony Carter or even manager Gary DiSarcina. But Sunday, it was that foursome of pitchers and their skipper who guided Boston's Triple-A affiliate back to the Finals with a chance to repeat.
Haeger scattered four hits over 5 1/3 innings and the relief combination of Martin, Rowland-Smith and Carter didn't allow a hit the rest of the way as Pawtucket bested Rochester, 3-0, at McCoy Stadium on Sunday in the decisive Game 5 of the International League semifinals. The PawSox, who lost 9-2 in Game 4 on Saturday, move on to face Durham in another best-of-5 series, starting Tuesday, for the championship.
"It's pretty much a lot of relief," said DiSarcina. "Our pitching was great today, especially after we got thumped last night. There was a quick turnaround with the game being today, and we didn't really know what we were going to get. I'm really proud of how the guys played this out."
Making his first appearance of the playoffs, Haeger -- a 29-year-old knuckleballer -- didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning and didn't let a Red Wings player reach scoring position until the sixth. He struck out four and walked three.
Meanwhile, the offense went to work in the third as Dan Butler followed up Jeremy Hazelbaker's two-out triple with an RBI single off Virgil Vasquez, making his first start for Rochester since Aug. 8, to put the first run on the board. After Justin Henry doubled, Heiker Meneses plated two runs with another base hit.
The PawSox starter, who didn't pitch at all last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in early 2012, came a bit unglued in that sixth, loading the bases with a pair of singles and a hit batsman. He managed to strike out Jeff Clement for the first out of the inning before handing the ball over to Martin following his 99th pitch. The right-handed reliever anned Chris Parmelee and got Aaron Hicks to fly out on the next pitch to escape the jam.
"That was the ballgame right there," said DiSarcina. "Chris was outstanding in that spot. He got behind 2-0 in that first one, but fought back to get the strikeout. If anything was a turning point, that was it because there was so much at stake there in terms of momentum. … Chris was our MVP today."
Martin recorded six more outs before making way for the southpaw Rowland-Smith, who retired all three batters he faced. Carter shut the door by getting Eric Farris to ground out to short to end the series and the Red Wings season.
Of the 14 Pawtucket players in Sunday's decisive contest, only four -- Alex Hassan, Bryce Brentz, Jeremy Hazelbaker and Butler -- played on the championship-winning squad last year. Still the club, which boasts top Red Sox prospects Brentz, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes and Christian Vazquez, has a chance to become the fourth franchise to repeat as IL champions since 2000, following Durham in 2002-'03, Toledo in 2005-'06 and Columbus in 2010-'11.
"I've said the same thing from the beginning -- [former Pawtucket manager and current Red Sox first-base coach Arnie Beyeler's] team and this team have two different identities," said DiSarcina. "Arnie did a tremendous job last year, and you can't hope to duplicate something like that. We just have different personalities in terms of clubs, but I'd say the one constant has been solid pitching.
"Maybe for us, it's just been timely hitting too. We're not going to thump teams, but we'll get hits in clutch situations. For my first year, it's been great to be a part of this team and make the Finals, but other than that, that was a special team."
The PawSox will travel down to Durham for the first two games of the best-of-5 Championship Series before returning back to McCoy for at least Game 3, as well as Games 4 and 5 if necessary. DiSarcina said the team hasn't set a rotation yet, but they are looking forward to the Bulls, who swept Indianapolis after posting an IL-best 87-57 record in the regular season.
"They're a great team," he said. "[Charlie Montoyo] was Manager of the Year down there for a reason. He's basically a legend in International League. But we're not going to be intimidated, obviously. For us to be successful, we have to play our game, play aggressively and let it all hang out like we did here against Rochester."
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com.