When Christian Bergman takes the ball to begin Game 1 of tonight's Northwest League Divisional Series matchup between the Tri-City Dust Devils and the Boise Hawks, he'll draw on the experience he already has as a big-game pitcher.
As a senior at St. Francis High School in Altadena, Calif., he started the team's CIF North championship game in 2006. One season later, as a freshman at UC Irvine, he was pitching in the semifinals of the College World Series, a game that could have gone to one of the Anteaters' more experienced pitchers.
"I hadn't pitched in any super regional games before that, but coach (Dave) Serrano decided to start me," said Bergman, a 6-foot-2 right-hander. "That was really an important point in my career. I was kind of struggling up to that point, but I realized if I could start in the College World Series, I could start anywhere."
This season, Bergman has been one of the best pitchers in the NWL. He was recognized as such in a vote by the league's coaches, being named to the NWL All-Star team after compiling a 7-5 record and a 2.65 ERA. In a league-high 971/3 innings, he walked just 11 batters and tied for sixth in the league with 68 strikouts.
He also came within one inning of breaking a 35-year-old NWL record when he tossed 31 consecutive scoreless innings -- a streak that included one of his two complete-game shutouts this season.
But to find out why Bergman has excelled this year, you have to look well beyond the numbers.
"The guy never wavers. He sticks to the plan," said Dust Devils pitching coach Dave Burba. "The thing I like is that you can't tell whether he's giving up 100 runs or pitching a perfect game. Nothing bothers him. That's something you can't teach."
Bergman has faced Boise twice so far this season, going 1-1 with a 2.13 ERA, but Hawks batters have managed to hit just .250 off him. Most of those hits -- eight, to be exact -- came in a 3-2 road loss at Memorial Stadium back on June 22.
Bergman got the best of Boise at Gesa Stadium, however, throwing seven shutout innings in a 3-0 win on Aug. 9.
Today, he doesn't plan to throw anything special against the Hawks. He'll just keep the same routine that made him a NWL all-star.
"The biggest thing is not to change anything just because it's the playoffs," Bergman said. "I take the same approach into every game. Once I see a few hitters, I'll know what adjustments I have to make."
-- Like everybody who gets to this point, Tri-City manager Fred Ocasio would love a championship ring. He's already got one from his first year of professional baseball in Tucson back in 1993.
But Ocasio, now in his 13th year in the Colorado Rockies' organization, had no idea it would take so long to get back.
"My first year, I was like, is it this easy?" he said. "I'm excited to get back to the playoffs and have a chance to win another championship. At this level, it's about developing players, but it's important to develop winners, too."
-- Two players that were key factors in getting Tri-City to this point may be limited in the playoffs or may not play at all. 2B Tim Smalling hyperextended his elbow during the Dust Devils' 5-game road series in Vancouver in late August. 1B Jordan Ribera was sidelined by a knee injury that kept him out of the team's final two games. Ribera is day to day.