ALLENTOWN, Pa. — It was a near-perfect way to end a magical trip through the playoffs.
Chris Dwyer pitched 6 2⁄3 perfect innings Tuesday night and got just enough offensive support to lead the Omaha Storm Chasers to a 2-1 victory over Durham in the Triple A National Championship game at Coca-Cola Park.
But, naturally, the end didn't come easily.
Omaha was twice one strike away from winning, only to see two runners reach base against closer Michael Mariot.
So Omaha manager Mike Jirschele turned to veteran left-hander Zach Jackson, and Jackson struck out left-handed hitting Vince Belnome swinging at an 88 mph sinker to end it.
The Chasers' two-out struggles gave Jirschele flashbacks to the end of the regular season. Omaha made the playoffs only after Memphis — twice one strike away from clinching the division title and sending Omaha home — couldn't close out a regular-season win against Oklahoma City.
“I really felt like we were going to close it out in that situation, but I also thought, 'This is exactly what Memphis felt like,' ” Jirschele said. “But I had all the confidence in the world in Zach shutting them down.”
That's what Dwyer did for the first seven innings.
“He was just outstanding,” Jirschele said. “His fastball and his fastball command were outstanding. His changeup has always been a plus pitch, and he threw just enough good breaking balls to keep their hitters totally off-stride.”
After Dwyer struck out the first two batters of the seventh inning, Durham finally got its first baserunner as Tim Beckham rolled a single between first and second base. Dwyer completed the inning with his eighth strikeout, then turned it over to Mariot, the team's closer, in the eighth.
But Mariot gave up a two-out, pinch-hit homer to Leslie Anderson in the eighth. Mariot then retired the first two batters in the ninth before getting two strikes on both Cole Figueroa and Beckham — but Figueroa singled and Beckham walked.
“We had the right guy in Jackson to finish that off, especially after a walk and knowing that we had a lefty to go against a lefty,” Jirschele said. “And also, I had a good idea (because of Jackson's sinker) that if they did hit the ball against Zach that it would be a ground ball and we'd have a chance to get a forceout.
“But he went ahead and struck him out, which was fine.”
Despite going just 70-74 during the regular season, Omaha got some help on the final two days of the season to reach the PCL playoffs as the American Conference North winner. Then the Chasers blazed their way to their second PCL title in three years by going 6-1 to knock out both league-best Oklahoma City and Pacific Conference champion Salt Lake.
Then, in Tuesday's winner-take-all national championship — a game that seems to be evolving from afterthought exhibition to postseason priority — the Chasers outlasted the International League's best team for their first victory in this postseason format.
“The No. 1 thing is to win your league, and it's a bonus you get to play in this game,” Jirschele said. “But you go into it wanting to win it.”
Dwyer settled for seven one-hit shutout innings, retiring 21 of the 22 batters he faced, capping an excellent 2013 minor-league season in which he was one of the Pacific Coast League's top starting pitchers.
But he isn't done yet. Jirschele told him after the game that he'd earned his first promotion to the major leagues.
The left-hander, named Omaha's pitcher of the year by the Kansas City organization, struck out two in both the first and second innings, then let his defense take care of most of the rest of the work.
Center fielder Paulo Orlando made a fine running catch on Mike Fontenot's fly ball to right center for the second out in the sixth, after previously making a nice sliding catch on Belnome's sinking liner to left center in the fifth.
Omaha outhit the Bulls 10-3.
Omaha leadoff hitter Irving Falu had three hits and drove in a run, while Lane Adams had two hits and scored a run and Manny Pina drove in a run and scored a run.
Omaha put together a two-out rally off Durham starter Jake Odorizzi for a second-inning run. Adams doubled off the base of the left-field wall, then scored on Pina's liner up the middle.
Another two-out rally led to a sixth-inning run off 16-game winner J.D. Martin. Pina walked, moved to second on Orlando's single to left, then scored Falu's soft line-drive single — shortstop Beckham leapt and got a glove on the ball but couldn't reel it in.
Odorizzi, the former Kansas City prospect who spent most of last season pitching for Omaha, struck out eight in his four innings of work, allowing one run on five hits.
“It was good to jump out first and get a lead, but we had a few more chances and didn't score,” Jirschele said. “So you didn't really feel comfortable. With the way Dwyer was pitching, we only needed a couple.”