By KEVIN ROBERTS
Lincoln Mikkelsen woke up Tuesday morning feeling like death. He was fairly sure he wouldn't be able to make his scheduled start - and it was a big one, Game One of the Atlantic League semifinals against Bridgeport.
``I felt terrible; I had the shakes,'' Mikkelsen said. `` I didn't get off the couch all day. I really didn't know if I could go. I thought maybe I'd better shut it down, but that would have messed everything up.
``Finally I told them I would try to go, but be on alert. Be ready in case I can't make it.''
The only people feeling poorly Tuesday were the Bluefish. Mikkelsen pitched a complete-game shutout, scattering six hits, to beat Bridgeport 5-0 and give the Riversharks the first game in this best-of-three series.
``I was feeling pretty good,'' Riversharks manager Wayne Krenchicki said. ``He coasted.''
The Riversharks sewed up this spot in time to be able to stagger their rotation for the playoffs, and had Mikkelsen pitching on seven days rest.
``It was easy to set this rotation up,'' Krenchicki said. ``He's had the best year of anybody in this league.''
This game featured perhaps the Atlantic League's two best pitchers - Mikkelsen was 16-6 with a 3.32 ERA this season, while Bridgeport starter Brad Cornett was 14-7 with a 3.27 ERA. But the Riversharks hung five runs on Cornett, banging out nine hits and making good use of four Bridgeport errors.
Mikkelsen was 2-2 with a 7.84 ERA against Bridgeport during the season - in one start he did not get an out before being chased nine batters into the first inning - but Tuesday he was terrific.
``He was throwing the ball great,'' said catcher Alex Delgado, whose two-run single capped a four-run fourth inning. ``He got stronger as the game went on. Once we got the lead, I knew they weren't going to hit him.''
Mikkelsen last started a playoff game for Taiwan in 1998, and he was geared up for this one (his creaky stomach permitting). The Riversharks, in just their second year of existence, are thinking about winning it all.
``There's a real sense of accomplishment here,'' Mikkelsen said. ``This is a good bunch of guys. We've got great chemistry, and great pitching and great defense doesn' t hurt. We've got a great staff, and there's no reason why we shouldn't win this whole thing.''
``This is a great organization, with great people in the front office,'' Delgado said. ``The people here deserve it. We're trying to win the whole thing.''
The Riversharks took a giant step forward Tuesday, with a convincing win to open the series.
Cornett was in trouble all night. The Riversharks had four hits in the second inning, but managed just one run. Delgado led off with a single, but when Bryon Gainey doubled to center Delgado was thrown out at home trying to score.
It was a risky gambit with none out, and Cornett seemed about to wriggle off the hook when he got Lipso Nava to ground out. But Maleke Fowler singled to score Gainey, and the Riversharks had a 1-0 lead.
Camden loaded the bases in the third inning on an error, a bunt single by Dwight Maness and a walk to Creighton Gubanich. But Cornett rose up and struck out Delgado, Gainey and Nava to escape the inning.
In the fourth, however, Bridgeport broke down. Fowler led off with a double and Yuri Sanchez bunted him over. Haddon Township High School graduate Brad Strauss singled to center, sprinting to first shaking his fist. When Bridgeport center fielder Rolo Avila made a weak throw in, Strauss alertly raced to second.
Alex Eckelman reached base when Angel Espada's throw pulled Oreste Marrero off the bag, although Marrero argued strenuously that he tagged Eckelman. It would not be the last argument Bridgeport waged in the inning, and not the last the Bluefish would lose.
Maness walked to load the bases, and Gubanich grounded to short. Espada took Tony Rodriguez's throw and relayed the ball quickly to first. But umpire Dan Wilson ruled Espada was off the bag at second, and umpire Clark Davis ruled Gubanich was barely safe at first.
Bluefish manager Duffy Dyer came streaming out of the dugout, unsure who to argue with first. But when the dust had settled, the Riversharks still had the bases loaded and Strauss had scored to give Camden a 3-0 lead.
Delgado capitalized, drilling a two-run single to give Mikkelsen a 5-0 cushion.
Reach Kevin Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org