DURHAM, N.C. — When Garrett Cooper stepped up to the plate in the first inning, there were two outs and the bases were loaded.
Cooper was still searching for his first hit with the the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, playing in his fourth game with the team.
Although the 27-year-old had to grind it out at-bat after at-bat, his patience paid off. Cooper took a pitch from Durham Bulls right-hander Yonny Chirinos back up the middle to score Donovan Solano for the first run of Wednesday’s Governors’ Cup Finals.
The designated hitter’s RBI single was just the start as RailRiders ace Domingo German pitched a stellar seven innings in a 4-0 Game 2 win over the Bulls. The series now heads to Moosic tied 1-1.
“Getting the first run of the game — taking the lead of the game — is always good, especially in a playoff atmosphere. It was a big hit for us,” Cooper said. “I’ve never played in the playoffs over with the (Milwaukee Brewers organization). This is definitely something new.”
Cooper has had a “whirlwind” of a second half after being traded to the RailRiders from the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, where he was batting .366 and made the Triple-A All-Star Game. He made his Major League debut just a day later, went back to Triple-A, was called up again, then got hurt.
Now he’s healthy and coming through for the RailRiders.
After a strong performance in batting practice, which included multiple home runs off the building behind the Green Monster-esque wall in left field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, he knew it was only a matter of time until he broke out of his slump.
Cooper finished 3 for 5 with with a double, a run scored and an RBI.
“It’s definitely different. You like to see where your home runs land in batting practice,” Cooper said. “It’s a nice park. I’ve never been here. Never been to North Carolina.
“I’ve been all over the place — up and down, playing some days, taking some days off. The second half has been different than playing every day in the second half. It’s definitely nice to help the team win.”
With the RailRiders facing a 1-0 series deficit heading into Wednesday’s tilt, German brought his ‘A’ game.
The 25-year-old right-hander allowed just one hit and three walks in his seven innings of work, striking out eight — two off his season high. German struck out four of the last five batters he faced and let just one runner reach third.
“I just wanted to go out there and compete. It’s a must-win game, and I wanted to compete and give it my all,” German said through an interpreter. “Thanks to God, I executed all my pitches, I pounded the strike zone and I mixed up all my pitches real well. From last outing to this outing, I changed what I had mistaken from my last outing and I didn’t this outing.”
With the RailRiders protecting a 3-0 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, manager Al Pedrique put his trust in 22-year-old reliever Anyelo Gomez.
The inning got off to a rough start after Gomez gave up a one-out infield single on a Justin Williams grounder that he was trying to field but slipped on the infield grass. But after throwing a few practice pitches, Gomez was dialed back in. He struck out the next two Bulls to end the frame.
It was just the fourth Triple-A appearance of his career, and he’s yet to give up a run. Gomez picked up the hold in the win.
“I like to use him in those situations because he showed that he has the make-up,” Pedrique said. “He’s nice and calm on the mound. He’s not afraid to challenge the hitters. He’s not afraid to throw his breaking ball in fastball counts when he’s behind in the count.
“We’ve been really impressed with his performance, the way he’s handled himself in key situations on the field. And he showed it tonight.”
Not only did the RailRiders’ late three-run burst in the final three frames provide German and company some comfort on the mound, but it showed life in a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre lineup that had been quiet of late.
The RailRiders scored one run on Sunday and were shut out on Tuesday. But Wednesday’s four-run performance showed possible signs of what could be to come.
“That’s what we’ve been waiting for. For everybody to come in contribute, have some good at-bats,” Pedrique said. “Overall, the whole lineup had better at-bats, quality at-bats. We didn’t give at-bats away. That’s what we need to go back to. That’s what we did the whole year, and that’s why we were successful.”
Game 2, Governors’ Cup Finals
RailRiders 4, Durham 0
M. Williams cf`5`1`1`0
J. Williams rf`2`0`1`0
E: Robertson (1); PB: O’Connor (1); DP: RailRiders 1, Bulls 1; LOB: RailRiders 11, Bulls 5; 2B: Andujar (1), Payton (1), Cooper (1), Bauers (1).
German (W, 1-0)`7.0`1`0`0`3`8
Gomez (H, 1)`1.0`1`0`0`0`2
Chirinos (L, 0-1)`5.0`3`1`1`2`1
WP: German, Rumbelow.
HBP: Diaz (by Chirinos).
Umpires: John Bacon, HP; Dan Merzel, 1B; Jeremy Riggs, 2B; Jasen Visconti, 3B.
Time: 2:44; Att.: 4,553.