SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Mesa used the piggyback starter tandem of Dylan Covey and Frankie Montas to great success throughout the Arizona Fall League regular season, with the two Athletics hurlers combining for a 5-0 record.
That formula worked again Saturday in the league championship game, with Covey and Montas holding Surprise to one run and two hits over eight innings to lead their team to a 6-1 victory in front of a crowd of 2,519. James Farris (Cubs) pitched a perfect ninth inning to preserve the win for Mesa.
Covey and Montas had previously been part of a combined no-hitter against the same team on Nov. 1—the first AFL no-hitter since 2001—and were nearly as effective in the championship gamer with Surprise not getting its first hit and run until the fifth inning.
Covey, who went 4-0, 4.74 in the AFL, allowed just one hit and a run in five innings. Montas allowed just a hit and walk in three innings, striking out five, with his fastball sitting 97-100 mph. During the AFL’s regular season, Montas was 1-0, 0.53 and allowed just seven hits in 17 innings, although he walked eight and struck out nine. Covey, who missed most of the season because of an oblique injury, was not added to the 40-man roster before Friday’s deadline and will be available in the Rule 5 draft next month.
All six Solar Sox runs came on home runs off the bats of the Nos. 3-4 in the order, with third baseman Brian Anderson (Marlins) striking the first blow with a three-run bomb to left field off Surprise starter Eric Stout (Royals) in the first inning.
For Anderson, it was a nice conclusion to a fall season in which he led the AFL in homers with five.
“I was just looking for something out over the plate from that guy,” Anderson. “He left a fastball up, kind of out over the plate, and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
Switch-hitting Ian Happ (Cubs) added a two-run homer from the left side of the plate to right-center in the third inning. He hit a solo shot in the seventh inning, again to right center but this time while batting righthanded. Happ added a double and single in a 4-for-4 game, and made a leaping grab of a long line drive off the bat of Mitch Garver (Twins) in the fifth inning to keep Covey’s no-hit bid alive for one more hitter.
Happ played mostly at second base in 2016, but he was forced back into left field—the position he played in his first pro season—due to injuries to Anthony Alford (Blue Jays) and Yefri Perez (Marlins).
It was the first time that the Cubs’ 2015 first-rounder homered from both sides of the plate in the same game.
“Usually I’m hacking for the fences when I hit one from the left side and then go righty, but that was awesome,” Happ said. “I was seeing the ball well today and was fortunate to get a couple of barrels on the ball, and they were all falling today.”
Both teams had to wait until the last day of the regular season to qualify for the AFL championship game, but Surprise was most affected by the close races. The Saguaros had to use ace Michael Kopech (Red Sox) for their division-clinching win on Thursday, leaving the fireballing righthander unavailable to start the championship game.
Coupled with the unavailability of Josh Staumont (Royals), who was shut down by his parent organization after his final start on Monday, Saguaros manager Carlos Febles had to rely on a parade of middle relievers against Mesa.
The Solar Sox squeaked into the championship game with a half-game lead over Salt River, finishing with a 16-15-1 record, with the Mesa hitters putting up a league-best 25 homers and .734 OPS.
“I didn’t have to tell these guys anything,” said Mesa manager Ryan Christenson. “They’ve always showed up to play and I knew they’d be out here to play today.
MVP FOR GLEYBER
Gleyber Torres (Yankees) of Scottsdale was presented with the Joe Black MVP Award as the AFL’s Most Valuable Player prior to the championship game, as well as being honored as the league’s leading hitter. The righthanded-hitting middle infielder batted .403/.513/.645, pacing all hitters in batting average, on-base average and OPS, and finishing second in slugging percentage. At 19, Torres is the youngest MVP in league history.
“Before I came here I prepared myself very well,” Torres said through a translator. “Before every game this year I prepared myself, so right now the hard work is paying off . . . I was honored to come here and represent the Yankees.”
Austin Nola (Marlins) was presented with the AFL’s Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award prior to the championship game. The award, named in memory of the Reds farmhand player who was murdered in 2003 while in Arizona taking part in the AFL, has been given annually since 2004 to the player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership.