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Confident RailRiders Have ‘nothing To Lose’

September 11, 2018 GMT

MOOSIC — The gray shirts made their debut during batting practice before Game 4 of the RailRiders’ series against Lehigh Valley. “You can’t kill what’s already dead,” they say in navy letters on the front, with “For the Cup” on the back. It’s a slogan the RailRiders have embraced recently as they survived many of their key players being traded away and others being called up to the big leagues to secure a playoff berth in the second-to-last game of the season. “We’ve got nothing to lose, basically,” infielder L.J. Mazzilli said of its meaning. The saying came to fruition later that night. Down to their last out against Lehigh Valley; one out away from blowing a 2-0 lead in a best-of-5 series. The IronPigs survived a gem from the RailRiders’ best starting pitcher and only needed their all-star closer to get past a guy who was 1 for 19 in the series. The RailRiders, more or less, were dead in the water. Lehigh Valley couldn’t kill them. Quintin Berry broke for third and scored on Shane Robinson’s infield single to send the game to extras. Ryan McBroom’s ground out gave them the lead in the 10th and then Bruce Caldwell landed the knockout blow with a grand slam. Now, it’s on to Durham and the Governors’ Cup finals — a rematch of last year’s series that the Bulls won in four games. “We’re going to play our (butts) off,” Mazzilli said. “We’ve got nothing to lose. (It’s a) We’re not supposed to be here kind of thing.” Game 1 is tonight at PNC Field, with Domingo German set to throw the first pitch at 6:35 p.m. Game 2 is Wednesday at PNC Field before the series is supposed to shift to Durham for the final three games. The hurricane bearing down on the Carolinas could change that, however. “We’ve been talking about a lot of different scenarios based on what’s down there,” RailRiders team president and general manager Josh Olerud said. “And I think (today) we’re going to dive into it a little more. It hasn’t been uncommon to look at what makes the most sense. We’ll see what happens. Everybody can see what’s going on down south. It doesn’t look very good. What does that mean? (International League president Randy Mobley’s) goal is to get five games in, if we have to play five.” Olerud said, if asked, the RailRiders would be open to hosting more than just the first two games. Durham won four of six games against the RailRiders this season, though three of the Bulls’ wins were by just one run. “We’re playing them tough,” said RailRiders starting pitcher Mike King, who is scheduled to throw Game 3. “It’s going to be a good series, that’s for sure.” King pitched around a rain delay to beat the Bulls, 6-3, in Durham — his second start with the RailRiders. He got a chance to face some of the big bats who have carried Durham down the stretch: former RailRider Rob Refsnyder, second baseman Kean Wong, first baseman Nathaniel Lowe, third baseman Brandon Snyder, outfielder Jason Coats and outfielder Austin Meadows, the centerpiece of the Chris Archer trade with Pittsburgh. King held the Bulls to two runs on six hits in 6⅔ innings, but didn’t face Scranton native Joe McCarthy, who missed the series with a back injury. “They’re a good team,” King said. “They’ve got a lot of talent, both young and old with some veterans. They got me later on in my game in that fifth, sixth inning that I pitched against them. They’re a well-rounded team and that’s really how we’ve got to go after them, kind of the same way we did.” German dominated Durham in the Governors’ Cup finals last year, letting up one hit in seven innings. He hasn’t pitched since Aug. 30, however, and missed most of August with ulnar neuritis. “We don’t know how sharp he’s going to be,” RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell said, adding German will likely be limited in how many innings he can throw tonight. “We know he’s got good stuff, but we don’t know how sharp he’s going to be.” Nestor Cortes, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of Game 2 against Lehigh Valley, will start Game 2 against Durham. The Bulls will throw Ryan Weber in Game 1, followed by Austin Pruitt and Chih-Wei Hu. “I think that’s what’s kind of so special about this team right now, is if you looked at the opening day roster, it’s completely different,” McCarthy said. “There’s an entirely new group of guys in here and when something like that happens, you don’t expect them to jell the way we do. And I’m telling you, if you were in our clubhouse, you would think that we’ve been together since Day 1.” Meadows has been the biggest threat in the lineup, batting .344 with 11 doubles and 10 home runs in 27 games with Durham. He had a two-homer game against the RailRiders on Aug. 11, including a two-run walk-off in the bottom of the ninth after SWB scored five runs with two outs in the top of the inning. “They’re good,” Mitchell said. “They’re real good. They’re a good hitting team. They can run. They can do a lot of things, that’s why they are where they are.” Contact the writer: cfoley@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9125; @RailRidersTT on Twitter