It certainly was grand, but was it a finale? Portland Sea Dogs ace Henry Owens struck out 11 batters in eight dominant innings Sunday, polishing off a sweep of the New Britain Rock Cats with a 6-1 victory at Hadlock Field.
It improved his record to 12-3, lowered his ERA to 2.21 and, perhaps most importantly, lasted just 2 hours and 19 minutes.
The Sea Dogs were facing a seven-hour bus trip to Binghamton, New York, after the game, Owens explained. The pressure was on him to get the engine started early.
Owens was going to be on that bus trip, seated next to infielder Sean Coyle as he has been all season. Those two will play in the All-Star Futures Game on Sunday in Minneapolis.
After that, Owens, two weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, may get the call up to Triple-A Pawtucket.
What more does he need to prove at the Double-A level? “You tell me,” said Blake Swihart, his Sea Dogs’ catcher and Owens’ friend of four years. “I believe he’s ready. He goes out and dominates every time.”
The soft-spoken Owens was loath to predict his immediate future.
“I’m not going to play front office,” he said. “I’m here to develop and get better every day. That’s all I’m going to focus on.”
He couldn’t be more focused these days. In his last eight outings, Owens is 8-0 with a 1.30 ERA. He has allowed just 38 hits in his last 72 innings.
And the worst news for teams like the Rock Cats is that he’s gaining confidence in his curveball, which confounded New Britain batters all afternoon.
Owens struck out the side in the sixth inning, ended the seventh by getting Mike Kvasnicka lunging at a breaking ball with a runner on, and Tony Thomas waved feebly at Owens’ 100th and final pitch to strand a runner at third in the eighth inning.
If Owens does get called up next week, the Rock Cats certainly won’t miss him. He faced them three times this season and allowed one earned run in 19 innings with 24 strikeouts.
“We’ve been working on it all season,” Owens said of his curve, which complements a low-90s fastball and a devastating changeup. “It was a work in progress. I think I have a good feel for it now. The last couple starts it’s been really good.”
Owens’ low-key comments were in stark contrast to a rowdy Sea Dogs’ clubhouse after the team moved to 30 games over .500 at 59-29. Players drummed batting helmets on a table while someone flickered the lights on and off rapidly in a raucous celebration and prelude to that long bus trip. It may be the last one for Owens with these teammates.
But Swihart promised the good times will continue.
“This is how we are. We win the game, we have fun with it,” he said, seated at his locker as the music pulsated.
“The team chemistry is pretty awesome on this team. We’re having fun, and we’re going to keep having fun.”