Jake Odorizzi and Chris Dwyer are friends after having been teammates in both 2011 and 2012, and both of their teams already feel like they've won championships.
But both have the same thought about Tuesday's Triple A National Championship Game.
“It's one of those things where it's nice to see him again,” Odorizzi said. “But at the same time, you want to try to beat him.”
Odorizzi, teammates with Dwyer at both Class AA Northwest Arkansas and again last year with Class AAA Omaha, will take the mound for International League champion Durham. Dwyer will start for Pacific Coast League kingpin Omaha.
The 6 p.m. game will be televised by NBC Sports Network.
It's sort of an exhibition game, kind of like a football bowl game. If you're going to play it, you might as well try to win it.
“It's pretty cool that we played together the last couple years and now we've both made it this far,” Dwyer said of Odorizzi. “I talked to him (Monday) and that was good. But I want to go out there and try to win.”
Both Odorizzi and Dwyer were among the record nine Kansas City farmhands ranked among the top 100 in the minor leagues by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season.
Odorizzi reached Omaha last May and went 11-3 with a 2.93 ERA — he would have won the league ERA title but was eight innings short of qualifying. Combined with Class AA, he was 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA.
Then Odorizzi was part of Kansas City's offseason blockbuster trade with Tampa Bay, in which it shipped minor league player of the year Wil Myers, Odorizzi, pitcher Mike Montgomery (also with Durham) and infielder Patrick Leonard to the Rays for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis (and a player to be named later, infielder Elliot Johnson).
Odorizzi, 23, had a strong season for the Bulls, going 9-6 with a 3.33 ERA that ranked eighth in the IL. He was third in the IL with 124 strikeouts, third with a 1.13 WHIP ratio, second among starters with a .225 opponent batting average and second among starters with 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings.
“I made strides this year,” Odorizzi said. “I've refined some things. I'm really happy with the year I've had.”
He pitched the first seven innings of a combined no-hitter on May 5 for the Bulls, and he also made five appearances, four of them starts, for Tampa Bay. One of those appearances — the only one in relief — was June 13 against Kansas City, when he allowed two runs on four hits in 31⁄3 innings.
“I've already got that one out of the way, so that's nice,” said Odorizzi, laughing about facing some of his former teammates.
He said he won't try to rely on previous knowledge of Omaha's hitters Tuesday night. He'll focus on his strengths instead.
That's the same approach Dwyer, 25, has used while bouncing back from consecutive subpar seasons, the second of which was at least in part related to a thyroid problem that has since been remedied.
The left-hander went 10-11 with a 3.55 ERA to tie for fifth in the league in wins. He also ranked sixth in ERA, tied for second in starts (28), third in innings (1592⁄3) and third in opponent batting average (.234).
He's also had plenty of bad luck — he had five losses and four no-decisions in games in which he posted quality starts, and also had three games suspended because of rain before the third inning.
Despite a brutal travel schedule (Saturday night win in Salt Lake City, a Monday morning red-eye to Charlotte, connection to Philadelphia, then a 90-minute bus ride to Allentown) and Dwyer's relative lack of use (two innings since Sept. 1), he's said all is well.
“I feel strong, rested and ready to roll,” Dwyer said.
Both teams posted first-round sweeps and four-game championship series wins in their respective leagues, but their regular seasons differed greatly.
Durham cruised to an 87-57 record and a 10-game division win while leading the IL in both hitting (.267) and pitching (3.33 ERA).
Omaha (70-74) ranked third in pitching (3.91 ERA) but just 12th in hitting (.264) and needed a surprising series of events over the last two days of the season just to reach the playoffs.
Even now, the Chasers' overall record is only 76-75.
“It's been a lot of fun,” Dwyer said. “You never know what's going to happen.”