Desert Dogs Win Their Fifth Straight Title

It must be the theme song.

There’s just no logical explanation for the Phoenix Desert Dogs’ domination of the Arizona Fall League championship game after they defeated the Mesa Solar Sox, 10-4, at Scottsdale Stadium on Saturday for their fifth consecutive AFL crown.

The players and coaching staff change every year. The organizations contributing players to the Desert Dogs, with the exception of the Oakland Athletics, are different each season.

Even the legendary AFL supporter, “Susan the Super Fan,” changes her allegiance annually depending on which squad the Diamondbacks farmhands are assigned.

The only consistent factor from year to year is the playing of the 2000 hit song “Who Let the Dogs Out?,”  by The Baha Men, when the Desert Dogs take the field before each home game.

The Desert Dogs, managed by Stan Cliburn (Twins), were unlikely champs this year after winning their division with a mediocre 18-18 record while the Solar Sox finished at 26-12.

One more factor contributing to them being the “underdogs” coming into Saturday’s contest—the Desert Dogs were facing Mesa ace Tommy Hanson (Braves), who totally owned AFL hitters this year.

“I knew we just had to keep it close,” said Cliburn. “We knew there would be low numbers as long as he (Hanson) was in the game. He was going to be dominating.”

Hanson, who led the AFL in every major pitching category this fall, was staked to an early 3-0 lead on Casper Wells’ (Tigers) RBI double in the second inning and Jeff Larish’s (Tigers) two-run homer in the fourth.

The Desert Dogs finally got to Hanson in the bottom of the fifth when Danny Valencia (Twins) hit a one-out triple off the centerfield fence and scored one batter later on Evan Frey’s  (Diamondbacks) groundout to second base.

The Solar Sox got that run back in the top of the sixth when Will Rhymes (Tigers) singled home Van Pope (Braves).

Hanson left the game with a 4-1 lead, having reached his pitch count maximum for the day. The big righthander yielded only three hits and fanned eight Desert Dog batters.

He barely found a comfortable seat in the dugout before the Desert Dogs eradicated his lead by pummeling the Solar Sox bullpen.

Mesa reliever Rudy Darrow (Tigers) retired the first batter he faced, but then hit J.P. Arencibia (Blue Jays) with a pitch. After Arencibia advanced to second base on a passed ball, Mike McKenry (Rockies) reached base on an error when Mesa catcher Tyler Flowers (Braves) couldn’t pick up McKenry’s nubber in front of the plate.

Josh Donaldson (Athletics) singled to center field, plating Arencibia from second to cut the lead to 4-2. Dustin Martin (Twins) doubled to right, driving in McKenry. After Chris Nelson (Rockies) fanned for the second out, Valencia singled to left, driving in both Donaldson and Martin to give the Solar Sox a lead they would not relinquish. Valencia advanced to second on the throw home.

The Solar Sox called on southpaw Sergio Escalona (Phillies) to relieve Darrow. Frey singled to center, scoring Valencia for a 6-4 Phoenix lead.  Of the five runs scored by the Desert Dogs in the sixth inning, four were unearned.

The Desert Dogs were far from finished.

After reliever Andrew Bailey (Athletics) pitched a scoreless seventh, the Desert Dogs started out the bottom half of the inning with a walk to Steve Tolleson (Twins).  Escalona was relieved by Tim Wood (Marlins), who retired Arencibia on a long fly ball to centerfield. After Tolleson’s steal of second base, McKenry was walked intentionally to set up a potential double play with Donaldson at the plate.

The Oakland Athletics prospect, acquired mid-season from the Cubs in the Rich Harden deal, broke the game wide open with a long homerun to the top of the hill beyond the leftfield bullpen to give the Desert Dogs a commanding 9-4 lead.

“He threw me a fastball in,” said Donaldson. “With two strikes you really can’t try to cheat on any pitches ‘¦ he threw me an inside fastball trying to get a double play, left it up a little bit, and I hit it pretty well.”

The Desert Dogs added their final run off reliever Aaron Thompson (Marlins) on a two-out double by Frey, plating Nelson to up the score to 10-4. Phoenix held the lead with scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth from Bailey and Andrew Carignan (Athletics) to clinch yet another championship for the Desert Dogs.

Rob Delaney (Twins) earned the victory in relief of Phoenix starter Jeff Manship (Twins).  Darrow was credited with the loss.

Cliburn credited team chemistry as the primary reason for his team’s success.

“It was a total team effort this whole time,” said Cliburn in a postgame interview. “It never was one guy ‘¦ like I taught from day one —- team chemistry.”

“We’ll wear the ring proudly in 2009,” Cliburn added, just moments after having a shaving cream pie shoved in his face by one of the Desert Dog players.

AFL NOTES

• Tommy Hanson (Braves) won the pitching “triple crown” by leading the AFL in wins (five), ERA (0.63) and strikeouts (49). Andrew Carignan (Athletics) led all relievers with six saves.

Eric Young Jr. (Rockies) led AFL hitters with a .430 batting average and a .504 on-base percentage, as well as topping the league with 20 stolen bases.

Tyler Flowers (Braves) was tops in homeruns with 12 and in slugging percentage (.973), while Mesa teammate Scott Cousins (Marlins) led the league with 33 RBIs.

Young, who spent the regular season with Class AA Tulsa, was especially pleased with his performance in the AFL and is looking forward to building on his success next season.

“I’m excited about what I was able to do down here,” said Young, “especially against the level of competition that was out here. I noticed a lot of elite prospects that the teams sent here and hopefully I was able to put my name out there that I’m one of them.”

One surprising part of Young’s AFL performance was his five homeruns after he hit only three during the regular season.  But he doesn’t believe the power boost will change his approach at the plate.

“I knew I always had that power, but it’s not really the main focal point of my game,” he said. “My game is base hits, get on base, and create havoc for the pitchers with my speed. Those balls that go out of the park are just a bonus —- getting runs on the board —- but it’s not the main focal point of my game.”

• Mesa Solar Sox infielder Jason Donald (Phillies) was presented with the AFL’s Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award prior to Wednesday night’s game at Scottsdale. The award, named in memory of the former AFL player who was tragically murdered in 2003 while a member of the Scottsdale Scorpions, has been given annually since 2004 to the league’s player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership. Donald hit .407/.476/.747 for the Solar Sox.

Minors | #2008 #Arizona Fall League #Winter Baseball

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