Viva Las Vegas!
For the Buffalo Bisons, nothing could be finer than to become a champion in Carolina and earn a trip to the inaugural Triple-A World Series.
The Herd is heading west after Friday night's heart-stopping 3-1 win over the Durham Bulls in Game Five of the International League's Governors' Cup Finals.
Left-hander Jason Jacome tossed seven shutout innings to earn his 17th win of the season and the Buffalo bullpen didn't fritter away a three-run lead like it did in Thursday's harrowing 7-6 defeat.
Right-hander Jeff Sexton -- who had just one save in the regular season -- pitched the final 1 1/3 innings to sew up a second straight playoff title for the first time in the franchise's 114-year history.
With many of his teammates pacing nervously in the dugout and few sitting, Sexton retired all four men he faced.
He struck out the first two batters in the ninth, then closed the game by getting Chris Martin to ground out to Jolbert Cabrera at short.
Cabrera flipped to Jeff Manto at first and the party was on with a wild pileup of green-shirted Bisons behind the mound.
Manager Jeff Datz and pitching coach Bud Black kept their distance so they could take in the scene and then shared a bear hug near the foul line before joining their players.
IL president Randy Mobley presented the Governors' Cup on the field to the Bisons, commemorating their first IL title since 1961 in their first year back in the league after a 28-year absence. The Herd then went to the clubhouse to the cheers of an appreciative crowd of 4,853 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Buffalo will open play in the best-of-five World Series Monday night at 11 at Cashman Field in Las Vegas against the Pacific Coast League champion, either Calgary or New Orleans. All games will be on ESPN2.
Jacome, outfielder Alex Ramirez and reliever Tom Martin, who was down on injury rehab, will not be making the trip. They were all called up to Cleveland after the game.
The clubhouse scene was bedlam, just as it was last year after the team clinched the American Association title in Des Moines. Datz, a champion in his first year at Triple-A, was deluged with champagne sprays by his players when he entered the room after doing an on-field interview.
"All year long, these guys have battled," Datz said. "It hasn't been easy. This was not an easy task in Durham. Game Five. Ninth inning. They sure made us earn it.
"These guys deserve it. They're a special group. It's a great year and we'll enjoy going to Vegas. I'm happy for everybody -- the fans in Buffalo, (team president) Bob Rich, (general manager) Mike Buczkowski, everybody. They've been great to me from day one.
Rich and his wife, Mindy, again stayed away from the game, keeping to their superstition of not jinxing the club on the road. The Riches were in Florida on business and kept in constant contact with Buczkowski via cellular phone.
The GM's last report described how Sexton blew away the Bulls in the ninth.
"Sexton was awesome," said catcher Steven Soliz. "He stepped up there right when we needed him. I don't know how much more pressure you could have. We knew he had a great sinker and tonight he had a great curveball."
"My intensity level was so high and that really helped me out," said Sexton, who had no decisions and a 4.07 ERA in 21 games this year after joining the club in July from Double-A Akron. "I just kept looking at Soli's mitt the whole time and never took my eye off it. I just tried to zone in."
The offense got its needed boost from Jacob Cruz, who drove in a pair of runs with two-out hits -- something the Herd desperately needed after its continual failures in clutch situations in Games Three and Four. Buffalo's other run came on Torey Lovullo's RBI single as the Herd had a 3-0 lead after three innings and made it stand up.
Jacome was knocked out in the eighth by Steve Cox's RBI double, but the bullpen prevented further damage. Chris Nichting fanned Scott McClain, Martin retired Luke Wilcox on a pop-up and Sexton got Russ Morman to ground out to short.
"We wanted the lead to stay at two runs," Datz said. "We ran through a lot of guys there and they all did their job just like we asked."
Jacome, meanwhile, wore out the Durham hitters with his dancing breaking balls for the first seven innings as the Bulls managed just four hits off him.
"I couldn't have asked for a better year," said Jacome, who was 14-2 in the regular season and 3-0 in the playoffs.
Jacome got out of two major spots to keep the Bulls scoreless.
In the bottom of the second, Durham's Morman cracked a towering drive to left that appeared to be a certain home run. But a gusty wind that was a precursor to a steady three-inning rain knocked it down and Cruz hauled it in.
"When it came off his bat, I was convinced it was gone or at least off the wall," Cruz said. "I turned on it and the wind had blown it in right at me. I was shocked."
The Bulls had the bases loaded with one out in the third, but Jacome got Cox to hit into a double play on a grounder to Lovullo at second. Cabrera's neat pivot at second was a key.
The Bulls had runners at first and second in the seventh after Martin's apparent inning-ending lineout to Bill Selby at third was erased by catcher's interference on Soliz. Again, Jacome came through with a strikeout of Kerry Robinson.
"What a job by Jac and the bullpen," Cruz said. "You can't say enough about the job they did tonight."And there aren't enough good things to say about this Buffalo club, a team 11 1/2 games out of first place in mid-June and still eight games out with 27 to play in early August before one of the most sensational runs in club history turned them into champions.