The Salt Lake Bees can clinch their first-round Pacific Coast League playoff series at Las Vegas on Friday night.
The Bees own a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series after a pair of thrilling victories.
In Game 1, Matt Long’s two-out homer in the bottom of the ninth inning off 51s reliever Rob Carson gave Salt Lake a 4-3 win.
In Game 2, Scott Cousins’ sacrifice fly to short center field in the bottom of the ninth — also off Carson — drove in Andy Marte and gave the Bees a 5-4 victory.
Considering how the teams finished the regular season, the Bees are in a surprising position.
Salt Lake lost 12 of its final 16 games, including four straight against Reno after clinching the PCL North Division. Las Vegas won 21 of its final 31 games and finished with the second-best record in the league (81-63).
"Playoff baseball is a different atmosphere," said Cousins. "The level and intensity and focus goes up a notch with everybody. After we clinched, maybe we said, ‘Let’s just get to the playoffs.’ Maybe we lost a little focus there."
The Bees have gotten solid starting pitching in the first two games of the series. Matt Shoemaker and Tommy Hanson both worked six innings against the most potent offense in the PCL.
In Game 2, Hanson had his best outing since being sent down by the parent Los Angeles Angels in early August. He allowed only three runs on three hits while striking out eight and walking two
"Absolutely, he did a great job for us," said manager Keith Johnson. "Obviously he gave up a few runs early but, for the most part, his stuff was as crisp as we’ve seen. He competed well, he gave us a chance to win and the bullpen came in and did another great job."
Righthander Jarrett Grube will start Game 3 for the Bees. He went 7-5 with a 4.47 earned-run average during the regular season. In his last two outings, he allowed four earned runs over 12 innings. In 2 1/3 innings against Las Vegas on Aug. 18, Grube did not allow a hit.
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