Mitch Talbot had made more starts at Durham Bulls Athletic Park than almost anyone when he took the hill for the Columbus Clippers on Thursday night.
And in Game 2 of the best-of-5 semifinal series of the Governors’ Cup Playoffs, he made the experience count.
Talbot went seven innings and allowed two runs on seven hits with five strikeouts against a pair of walks, helping the defending National Champion Clippers to an 8-3 win and a 2 games-to-0 lead.
Game 3 of the series – and games 4 and 5 if necessary – will be held tonight through Sunday at Huntington Park in Columbus. Bulls southpaw Alex Torres (9-7, 3.08) will take on Joe Martinez (8-9, 4.04) in Friday’s 7:05 p.m. contest.
“Early in the game I felt a little off,” said Talbot, who got 30 wins and a 2009 National Championship ring as a member of the Bulls from 2007-09. “But I came back and battled a little bit and that’s kind of when things took off. I really felt pretty good physically. I think Durham’s going to be our biggest challenge. The way we look at it if we get through Durham we’ve got the tough one out of the way.”
Columbus, which beat the Bulls in four games in the finals last year, swept all four home games against Durham during the regular season.
“We had Talbot on the ropes,” Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said. “We know he always has one bad inning (as he did in the first) but we didn’t take advantage of it any more. We also didn’t make some plays in the outfield that they played and were huge. … We’re more relaxed than they are now, because we’ve got them in a hole. But we’re playing them at their place.”
Chad Huffman led the Clippers with his second homer of the playoffs, a double and a single for two RBI. Juan Diaz doubled and singled for two RBI as six Clippers had multi-hit games.
“The experiences that you have in baseball definitely help you in these type games,” Clippers manager Mike Sarbaugh said. “After the first inning Archer really threw the ball well for them. He really stepped up. You can see why he’s the pitcher he is. We feel good about being up 2-0, but this series isn’t over. There’s still a lot of work left. We have to take it like we have the first couple of games and take it one inning at a time.”
Rookie Chris Archer, who is from nearby Clayton, started for the Bulls and went 5 2/3 innings, giving up five runs on seven hits while striking out 11 against one walk in the loss.
“I felt like, minus a couple of pitches I pitched pretty well,” Archer said. “I had a combination of fastball and slider and changeup for the strikeouts. It’s great playing here, both being close to home and with this group of guys.”
Matt Carson paced the Bulls with a double and a single, while Dan Johnson added a pair of singles for two RBI.
The Clippers jumped on Archer for three runs in the first. Tim Fedroff led off with a walk before scoring on Beau Mills’ ground-rule double to right. Huffman then blasted a 1-1 offering over the Blue Monster wall in left.
“I felt good again today,” Huffman said. “When you get good pitches to hit you’ve got to hit them, especially with as good of stuff as Archer had tonight. He had some great stuff. Mitch was great. He’s always been great for us.”
Durham got its only two runs off Talbot in the bottom of the frame. Tim Beckham led off with a single to right center. Then with one out Carson doubled to left before Johnson brought home both runners with a single to center.
The Clippers made it 4-2 in the second as Argenis Reyes hit a one-out single to right and scored on Travis Buck’s one-out single to right.
They added another run in the sixth on Fedroff’s two-out RBI single off Mike Ekstrom. And they put the game away with three runs in the seventh, with the key two-out hits – a two-run double from Juan Diaz and an RBI double from Luke Carlin – coming off Adam Russell.
The Bulls completed the scoring in the eighth off Jason Rice as Carson walked and later scored on Russ Canzler’s double-play ball.
The defending Triple-A National Champion Clippers are looking for their second straight Cup under second-year skipper and manager of the year Sarbaugh, who is looking to become the fourth manager to win the title in his first two seasons in the league. Columbus has won eight IL championships, including defeating the Bulls in four games in last season’s final.
The Bulls, who have won five straight South Division titles, are looking for their fifth straight appearance in the Governors’ Cup Finals under Charlie Montoyo. Durham has won three Cups in its 14 seasons in the league, including the National Championship team from 2009.
The survivor will host the first two games of the best-of-5 final against either Pawtucket or Lehigh Valley – which won Thursday’s opener – beginning Sept. 13, with the winner going to the National Championship game in Albuquerque on Sept. 20.
Durham is set to host the National Championship game next year.