GENEVA, Ill - Shelby Miller delivered as promised Wednesday night.
Welcoming the challenge of taking the mound in Quad-Cities' first Midwest League playoff game since 2007, Miller struck out a career-high 13 batters over seven scoreless innings of a 4-0 victory over Kane County.
"I was really hyped up about this game," Miller said. "I thought a lot coming into it about how good I can be when I put my mind to it, and I put it all together. I told J-Rod (manager Johnny Rodriguez) I was going to get him a shutout, and I did."
The River Bandits right-hander dominated from the start, sending five of the first seven Cougars he faced back to the Elfstrom Stadium dugout with bats in their hands.
"He was putting the ball wherever he wanted it," Quad-Cities catcher Robert Stock said. "The first time through the lineup, it was his fastball, but then he integrated his off-speed pitches and everything was working."
Miller said things felt good from the time he stepped on the bullpen mound to warm up.
"I didn't go deep into many counts. I was getting hitters to swing at first pitches and my off-speed stuff," Miller said. "It was a special start."
Dan Calhoun and Jose Rada completed the three-hit shutout as Quad-Cities won the opening game of the best-of-3 Western Division semifinal series that shifts to Davenport's Modern Woodmen Park tonight.
"Our pitchers were on top of it," shortstop Devin Goodwin said. "And Shelby, that was pretty impressive. He didn't give them much of a chance."
Miller, who recorded nine strikeouts through four innings, walked just one batter and allowed just two hits in seven innings of work.
The only Kane County batters to collect hits off of Miller were Leonardo Gil, who opened the second inning with a double, and Conner Crumbliss, who beat out a bunt for a two-out single in the third.
Miller followed Gil's double to right by striking out the next three batters he faced, illustrative of the sharpest outing of the season by the Cardinals' first-round selection in the 2009 draft.
"That was a championship performance," Rodriguez said. "He took the ball and said, ‘You're not hitting me tonight.' That was exactly the type of start we needed."
QUAD-CITIES 4, KANE COUNTY 0
TIMELY HITTING: A season-long companion to the pitching and defense which led Quad-Cities to 83 regular-season wins allowed the River Bandits to win their Midwest League playoff opener Wednesday.
Timely hitting against Murphy Smith, one of the aces of the Kane County pitching staff, allowed Quad-Cities to take early control of a pitcher's duel.
"When you go out and score first in a game like this, it's huge," River Bandits catcher Robert Stock said. "It took some of the pressure off and just let us play the game."
Timely hits have been part of the script throughout the season for an efficient Quad-Cities team that ranked ninth in the Midwest League in hits, but was second in runs scored.
"I loved our at-bats against a solid pitcher for Kane County. We really grinded and made (Smith) throw some pitches," River Bandits manager Johnny Rodriguez said. "It was everybody up and down the lineup. The work they've put in with (hitting coach) Joe Kruzel is making a difference."
Quad-Cities collected the only run it needed in the 4-0 shutout in the fourth inning when a pair of wild pitches by Smith following a single by Colin Walsh allowed Devin Goodwin to slice a run-scoring single through the right side of the infield.
"With two strikes, I wasn't trying to do anything special other than put the barrel on the ball," Goodwin said. "I was able to squeak one through and get us the lead."
The River Bandits doubled their advantage in the seventh after Kane County went to its bullpen. Alan Ahmady led off with a double, then scored following back-to-back singles by Edgar Lara and Frederick Parejo.
Quad-Cities collected seven of its 11 hits over the final three innings to secure the opening win in the best-of-3 series.
SHORT START: River Bandits outfielder Michael Swinson was pulled from the game after his first at-bat Wednesday because of an injury.
Manager Johnny Rodriguez said Swinson had been dealing with a slight injury to his right knee, attempted to play through it, but found during his game-opening at-bat that he could not turn it as needed. The situation will likely lead to a spot on the disabled list.
Rodriguez said a shoulder injury suffered in the bullpen before the game left newcomer Cody Stanley unavailable to play. His status for tonight is undetermined.
GOING DEEP: River Bandits catcher Robert Stock equaled his home run total for the regular season with one swing of the bat in the ninth inning.
His two-out homer to right extended a 2-0 lead and came at the same stadium where he hit his only other homer of the year.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER: The River Bandits are one of five of Cardinals' minor-league clubs to reach the playoffs this season.
Triple-A Memphis in the Pacific Coast League and Double-A Springfield in the Texas League joined Quad-Cities in opening postseason play Wednesday. Short-season A Batavia has qualified for postseason play in the New York-Penn League and rookie-level Johnson City won the Appalachian League title last weekend.
The organization has the best cumulative won-loss record at the minor-league level of any major-league club this season.
REGULAR ROUTINE: When Quad-Cities returns to Modern Woodmen Park for the final games of the series, the River Bandits plan to offer their regular weekly promotions. It will be a Van's Pizza discount beverage night tonight and if a third game is necessary, a Lujack's Friday Fireworks display will follow the game.
NEXT: Midwest League Western Division semifinals, Game 2, Kane County at Quad-Cities, 7 p.m., today. Probable pitchers: Kane County, Jonathan Joseph (2-5, 3.33 ERA); Quad-Cities, Michael Blazek (8-4, 2.71)