The bases were loaded. There were two outs. It was the late innings of a one-run ballgame. And it was the playoffs.
At that point, every kid dreams of having a bat in his hands, being the guy with the chance to change the outcome with one swing. On Saturday night, however, the hero was the man with the ball on the mound.
Reliever Shawn Armstrong was called on to face Bowie shortstop and Orioles' No. 4 prospect Jonathan Schoop under just that scenario, this time in the top of the eighth inning with the Aeros leading Bowie, 2-1.
Three consecutive strikes for an inning-ending punchout.
Preston Guilmet followed with a scoreless ninth for his second straight save and Akron forced a decisive fifth game in the Eastern League semifinals with a 2-1 triumph over the Baysox.
Sunday's showdown will be the biggest game for both teams this season, but it might not have been necessary if not for Armstrong's pressure-packed strikeout.
"We had a lot of decisive moments in that game," said Aeros manager Chris Tremie, "but obviously [Armstrong] did a huge job in that moment. Coming in like that and throwing three straight strikes down in the zone, it was definitely the biggest moment for us tonight."
The three-pitch outing was something of a redeeming one for Armstrong. He took the loss in Game 2 after allowing two unearned runs in the eighth inning of the Baysox's 7-5 victory. Both of those tallies came after a throwing error by third baseman Adam Abraham.
Regardless, it wasn't enough to keep Tremie from bringing in the 22-year-old right-hander, who owned a 0.89 ERA in 17 regular-season appearances for the Aeros and a 1.60 mark in 45 games across two levels.
"He's been great for us out of the bullpen," the manager said. "There are very few times when he's had a mistake and he's exactly what you want from a guy coming in during those late innings."
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the Aeros have ridden their pitching to the deciding game of a playoff series. During the season, they led the Eastern League with a 3.01 ERA, a half a run better than the next best team.
On Saturday, it all began with starter Toru Murata, who allowed one earned run on four hits over six innings. Although he did not figure in the decision, the success was nothing new for the Japanese right-hander, who gave up two runs over 26 1/3 innings in his last five starts.
"He was very good for us tonight," Tremie said. "I thought he located the fastball pretty well and was able to throw the slider and changeup for strikes. ... He's been pretty consistent for us this season, but even this may have been the best he's been as of late."
While Aeros pitchers limited the Baysox as best they could, the offense did just enough to eke out a win. Lonnie Chisenhall's RBI single off Bowie starter Jacob Pettit put Akron ahead in the fourth. Three innings later, Roberto Perez followed a walk, an error and a bunt with a sacrifice fly.
The run proved decisive and forced one more game on Sunday at Canal Park. That's an accomplishment for a team that dropped the first two games and could have lost Saturday if not for a perfect three-pitch sequence.
"You never want to go down, 2-0," Tremie said, "but we had a lot of confidence and we knew if we kept our focus on winning what was before us, we could pull this out. We've still got one more to do that."
Pettit was just as good as Murata, allowing a run on four hits over 6 1/3 innings. He walked three batters and struck out four.