Joe McCarthy’s Big Day Sends Durham To Title
MOOSIC — Drenched head to toe in celebratory beverages, Joe McCarthy stands in the batting cage outside the PNC Field visitor’s clubhouse and runs down a list of things that needed to happen for him to even end up here.
From almost having this homecoming in June, to injuring his back, to thinking he was going to miss the rest of the season.
From Durham winning its division, a RailRiders team stripped apart by July trades making a late push to grab the league’s wild card, both teams winning their semifinal playoff series and a hurricane forcing the entirety of the finals to be played here.
From the RailRiders winning Game 1 of the finals, Durham taking the next two, and SWB surviving a do-or-die scenario Friday.
It all led to the kid from Scranton standing in a batter’s box in Moosic in the first inning of a winner-take-all, championship Game 5 on Saturday.
One swing of his bat, and Durham never looked back.
“It couldn’t have ended any better for me,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy launched a mammoth homer in his first at-bat to give Durham the lead, then cleared the bases with a three-run double in the fourth inning to send the Bulls past the RailRiders, 6-2, defending their Governors’ Cup championship.
McCarthy finished 3 for 5 with two doubles, the homer and four RBIs in the deciding game.
“It’s the postseason, and if I went 0-for this entire series and we were able to take it — I know that sounds cliché — I’d be happy with that,” McCarthy said. “Because the postseason’s about winning. It’s not about coming to your hometown and getting base hits. It’s about winning. I’m just extremely happy that we were able to come in here and take care of business and win this series because this team is, there’s something special about this team.”
Former RailRider Rob Refsynder was named most valuable player for Durham’s postseason run, going 11 for 30 with two home runs, three doubles and six RBIs, knocking in McCarthy in the third inning Saturday to stretch Durham’s lead to 2-0.
After the RailRiders wasted three base runners in the top of the first, McCarthy gave Durham the lead with one out in the bottom of the inning. Facing SWB starter Domingo Germán for the second time this series, he didn’t stress out about falling behind in the count.
“I’m kind of expecting either something offspeed or buried, not too much over the plate,” McCarthy said. “And he made a mistake and I was able to capitalize on it.”
He blasted a towering fly ball out to right, clearing the Budweiser sign atop the RailHouse bar. After a few slow steps out of the box to watch it sail out, he circled the bases to an ovation from most of the 3,299 fans in attendance — the biggest crowd of the series.
“I’m not a guy who shows much emotion at all out there,” he said. “But, again, it’s Game 5, we’re in Scranton, the championship game and I was able to hit a home run my first at-bat. I was overcome with joy.”
He shot a double inside third base and against a defensive overshift in the third and scored on Refsnyder’s poke to left-center. After the RailRiders went to the bullpen to bring on Justus Sheffield, Austin Meadows’ ground ball made it through the left side for a 3-0 lead.
“Scoring early is pretty important in an elimination game,” Refsnyder said. “Just so you can be aggressive and not passive and stuff like that. It was good to get ahead early. Joe’s home run was really, really big.”
Germán allowed three runs on three hits in 2⅔ innings, walked one and struck out two.
“His command wasn’t as good as the last time out,” RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell said. “But, he battled.”
After not being able to come up with that big hit in the first inning, the RailRiders got the first two batters on in the second against Durham starter Kyle Bird. The lefty bounced back to strike out the next three hitters, however, starting a run of 13 straight RailRiders retired by Durham pitching.
While SWB’s offense sputtered, McCarthy came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth. He had two at-bats against Sheffield in Game 1 of the series, so again he had an idea of what to expect when the count ran full.
“I know, with the stud he is, with that good slider that he has, I was going to see it the whole at-bat,” McCarthy said. “And that 3-2 pitch, I just caught one out over the plate and was able to put a barrel on it.”
He ripped it down the right-field line, and by the time Zack Zehner could dig it out, three runs crossed and Durham had a 6-0 lead.
“I came here once in high school and it was actually with another one of my high school teammates who was a couple years older than me,” McCarthy said. “But I watched the game. And I watched the pitching. And I watched the outfielders. And I was like, ‘I can do this. I know that I can play at this level.’
“And it’s a farfetched idea at the time, being a 15-year-old kid in high school. But for nine years later, to be in this situation, with this happening, is absolutely crazy and for it to turn out this way, it’s really a dream come true.”
Durham’s offense cooled after the inning and the RailRiders started to pick things up. Gio Urshela doubled off Colin Poche with one out in the sixth, then Mike Ford got the team on the board with a long homer to the grass in right. It was Ford’s third home run of the championship series.
“Second half was really good for me after I came back from the injury,” Ford said. “Second half, playoffs here, too — this series was good for me. Made some adjustments and they worked. Carry that into the offseason, hopefully next year.”
Ryan McBroom followed with a single and L.J. Mazzilli added a base hit with two outs, bringing the RailRiders within a swing of a one-run game. Poche struck out Bruce Caldwell to end the RailRiders’ last threat of the game. Durham retired 10 of the final 11 batters of the game, only surrendering Urshela’s single that started the eighth.
“It was a great team,” Ford said. “We fought to the end. We just came a little short today. They got a little momentum early and then tried to come back. It was just tough. They’re a tough team to play against. Whole season came down to one game.”
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