Archie Bradley was voted the Southern League's Most Outstanding Pitcher as the Mobile right-hander closed the regular season with six straight wins to finish 12-5 with a 1.97 ERA.
The best pitcher so far in the playoffs, though, has been Birmingham's unheralded Chris Bassitt, who didn't reach Double-A until late July.
Bassitt blanked Mobile for 5 2/3 innings in his second strong postseason start and the visiting Barons got to Bradley early and often en route to an 8-3 victory in the opener of the Southern League Finals on Wednesday night at Hank Aaron Stadium.
But Bradley, Arizona's top prospect, wasn't his usual dominant self this time. While Bradley was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 Draft, Bassitt wasn't selected by the Chicago White Sox until the 16th round that year.
Cody Puckett hit a two-run homer in the first inning and Bradley was charged with six runs on seven hits before being knocked out in the sixth.
Birmingham finished with 14 hits against the team with the league's best ERA during the regular season. Puckett was 3-for-6 with a double and leadoff man Micah Johnson reached base five times on two hits and three walks.
Meanwhile, Bassitt improved to 2-0 with a 0.71 ERA in the postseason, striking out seven and working out of two bases-loaded jams.
Mobile loaded the bases in the fourth and fifth innings, but Bassitt struck out Ryan Court to end the first threat and Dustin Martin to end the second.
The BayBears ace walked Johnson to open the game and advanced on a wild pitch before Puckett crushed a fastball over the left-field fence. Puckett had 17 homers in the regular season, 15 with the Barons.
Birmingham, which forced Bradley to throw 28 pitches in the first inning, added a run in the fourth as Dan Black, who had led off with a single, knocked the ball loose as he bowled over Mobile catcher Rossmel Perez on Brandon Jacobs' two-out double.
The Barons scored three times in the sixth to break open the game. Tyler Saladino drove in the first run with a triple, then Mike Blanke and Johnson followed with RBI singles.
After Mobile scored twice in the ninth, the BayBears avoided a shutout with three unearned runs in the bottom of the inning as Justin Greene and Ender Inciarte delivered RBI doubles after second baseman Johnson made his second fielding error of the night.
Mobile, which is going for a record-tying third straight championship, eliminated South Wild Card Mississippi in four games, while Birmingham had to go to a fifth game at Tennessee to win in the North.
The team plays again Thursday night in Mobile before shifting to Birmingham on Friday for the rest of the best-of-5 series. The Barons were a league-best 44-26 during the regular season and 2-0 in the postseason at new Regions Field.
---- Source: MiLB.com
Birmingham's Dan Black
- Photo2 by Tim Evearitt