Durham repeats as champion of International League
MOOSIC, Pa. — Joe McCarthy’s long-awaited homecoming already had been rewarding for the Durham Bulls outfielder.
But largely because of him, the Governors’ Cup is heading back to Durham.
McCarthy homered and then doubled twice, driving in four runs as the Bulls repeated as International League champions by defeating the Scranton-Wilkes Barre RailRiders 6-2 in Saturday’s winner-take-all Game 5.
“For it to turn out that way is a dream come true,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy, who’s from Scranton, received ovations for each of his plate appearances in the series. Then his bat provided some of the biggest roars in the game that mattered most.
“It’s Game 5. We’re in Scranton. The championship game,” McCarthy said. “I was overcome with joy.”
Durham will meet the Pacific Coast League champion Memphis Redbirds in a rematch of the Triple-A national championship game Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio.
So McCarthy will have a final shot in a season he feared might end prematurely when he sat out for about 2 ½ months with a back injury.
He returned to action with the Bulls with a couple of weeks left in the regular season. Then the postseason matchup against his hometown team was just what he ordered, particularly with all the games at PNC Field — the last three were relocated because of Hurricane Florence.
“For this to happen in my hometown in this fashion after two months when I thought I was on the shelf for the year and missed the series here earlier,” McCarthy said. “(Coming home) it was a little tough to deal with some of the distractions. I love these guys here (in Scranton). This is my home. Throughout my career, I’ve had a tremendous amount of support from people here and to come and do this in my hometown is unbelievable.”
McCarthy uncorked a mammoth home run to right field in the first inning, doubled and scored in the third and then drilled a two-out, three-run double down the right-field line that sent the Bulls to a 6-0 advantage in the fourth.
Bulls manager Jared Sandberg discussed the hometown impact with McCarthy prior to the series. Afterward, he was proud of what the 24-year-old had accomplished.
“I told him, ‘Thank you for getting healthy and for coming back,’ ” Sandberg said. “I think he learned from his experience the first couple of days here and that really helped him settle in.”
For McCarthy, who had constant attention at the ballpark and local media tracking nearly his every move, set the tone with the early blast. It helped in other ways, too.
“I kind of felt some of the weight come off my shoulders,” McCarthy said.
The Bulls hadn’t scored against RailRiders starter Domingo German in a total of 23 innings covering two seasons. German was the Game 1 starter when the RailRiders opened the series with a victory.
McCarthy and Rob Refsnyder, a former RailRider, rapped back-to-back, two-out doubles in the third, chasing German. Austin Meadows greeted reliever Justus Sheffield with a run-scoring single.
McCarthy stroked a three-run double in the fourth, marking the only Durham hit in the inning.
Refsnyder, another outfielder, was named the postseason Most Valuable Player.
“It was a competitive series and a fun series,” he said. “… Obviously, without Joe we wouldn’t have won.”
Scranton / Wilkes-Barre’s Mike Ford uncorked a two-run homer in the sixth off Colin Poche. It marked Ford’s third homer of the series.
The Bulls used five pitchers in the clincher, beginning with Kyle Bird, who made all six of his previous career starts this year. Ruben Alaniz was the winning pitcher with two perfect innings.
It’s Durham’s sixth Governors’ Cup. In three previous Game 5s, the Bulls came up short.
“It’s not easy looking at the roster turnover, the distractions that happen at Triple-A,” Sandberg said. “But this was an incredible year. It never gets old. The winning is very, very difficult.”
In four Governors’ Cup matchups between these teams, this marked the first time a Game 5 was necessary. Scranton / Wilkes-Barre won in 2008, while Durham prevailed in 2009 and 2017.