PORTLAND – They took a round-about route, but the Portland Sea Dogs have given themselves a chance to defend their Eastern League championship.

Portland got the starting pitching it has been sorely lacking for the last month from Tommy Hottovy and some big nights at the plate from Jeff Corsaletti and Andrew Pinckney to win the fifth one-game playoff in Eastern League history, 7-4, over the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, before 4,042 at Hadlock Field Tuesday night.

“We’re here to stay now,” a beer-and-champagne-soaked Hottovy said. “We made it, and we’re going to take full advantage of it.”

Following the game, the Sea Dogs boarded two buses bound for Trenton, where beginning tonight they will face the New York Yankees’ affiliate for the third straight year in the best-of-five Northern Division Championship Series. Portland heads into the playoffs with a 71-72 record and is the first Eastern League team since 1989 to enter the postseason with a losing record.

Pinckney belted a pair of home runs and drove in three, and Corsaletti had four hits and scored three times for Portland, which had gone 9-22 in the last month to squander a 4.5-game lead over New Hampshire and end up in the sudden-death situation.

Hottovy (4-10), one of the heroes of the 2006 title run, picked up the win with five innings of five-hit, one-run pitching.

“The way my season’s gone, it’s been kind of up and down for me,” said Hottovy, who was sidelined with forearm soreness in July. “I’ve just been asking for an opportunity to take our team to that next level and it kind of fell in my lap and I wasn’t going to let that go by. I was the most relaxed I’ve been in awhile going into this start because I knew what I needed to do.”

“We pitched and we worked ahead and played good defense,” Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler said. “It all comes down to getting ahead and giving ourselves a chance by throwing strikes, not walking everybody and putting guys in 2-0, 3-1 counts all the time. Tommy did a great job of stepping up and doing what he does.”

Corsaletti, who was 3-for-31 in his last eight games, led off the bottom of the first with a home run to right. David Smith pulled the Fisher Cats even with a solo blast over the Maine Monster to start off the second.

“He set the tone, ‘Hey, we’re going to play today,'” Hottovy said. “That’s what a leadoff hitter does is set the tempo for the game.”

Pinckney led off the third and put the Sea Dogs on top for good with a blast to right-center. Corsaletti then singled with one out, went to second on Iggy Suarez’s base hit, advanced to third on Bryan Pritz’s sacrifice fly to right and scored on an Aaron Bates single to left.

After Dusty Brown walked with one out in the fifth, Pinckney crushed an 0-1 offering from Yates over the Ford sign on top of the video board in right-center to make give Portland a 5-1 cushion. Pinckney stepped in against New Hampshire reliever Seth Overbey an inning later with runners at second and third and two out and drew an intentional walk. Tony Granadillo followed with an RBI single to right to make it 6-1.

Hottovy (two walks, one strikeout) gave way to reliever Hunter Jones to start the sixth. Jones breezed through the sixth but departed in the seventh with the bases loaded, one out and a run in for reliever Beau Vaughan.

Cats cleanup hitter Ryan Patterson greeted him with a sacrifice fly and it was 6-3, then Rob Cosby punched a single to right to pull the Cats within two. A walk loaded the bases and put the tying run in scoring position, but Manny Mayorson grounded out to short and New Hampshire got no closer.

“If that wasn’t our season in a nutshell, I don’t know what it was,” New Hampshire manager Bill Masse said. “Probably 75 percent of our games we’d fallen behind like that early, in 75 percent of the games we battled back and…tonight we just fell short.”

Vaughan pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and, after Iggy Suarez doubled in Corsaletti in the eighth for an insurance run, Mike James picked up his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless ninth.

Trenton hosts the first two games of the Northern Division Championship Series tonight and Thursday night. The series continues at Hadlock Friday and, if necessary, Saturday night. Both games will start at 6 p.m. Tickets went on sale last night.

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