SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—There was no walk-off home run nor any other late game offensive heroics this year as the Scottsdale Scorpions defeated the Peoria Javelinas, 3-2, for the Arizona Fall League championship game before a nice crowd of 3.387 at Scottsdale Stadium.
Instead, it was a couple of sparkling defensive plays in the eighth inning by Scorpion shortstop Thomas Field (Rockies), who came into the game as a defensive replacement one inning earlier, and clutch relief work by five pitchers, most notably closer Cole Kimball (Nationals), that sealed the victory for Scottsdale. It was the Scorpions’ first AFL championship in the league’s 19 year history.
“They worked hard and they played hard the whole time here,” Scorpions manager Randy Knorr said about his team, “and this is what you get for playing hard.”
Field made a game-saving play with two outs in the eighth, and with Javelina runners on first and second. Jason Kipnis (Indians) hit a hard grounder up the middle that deflected off lefthander Dan Runzler (Giants). Field, who was heading towards second base, quickly reversed directions, fielded the ball and made an off-balance throw to first baseman Brandon Belt (Giants), nabbing Kipnis to retire the side and prevent the potential tying run from scoring.
“There really wasn’t any time to think,” Field said about the hard grounder. “It’s almost like an instinctual thing . . . the ball deflected and that’s just more time the runner has to get down to first base, so I knew I had to get rid of it.”
Kimball, whose fastball was up to 98 mph, came on in the ninth for the save, striking out Eric Thames (Blue Jays) before getting both pinch-hitter Nate Tenbrink (Mariners) and Cord Phelps (Indians) on ground outs. It was his first save in a championship game. Kimball didn’t rely solely on his heat, though.
“I was throwing some splitters to the lefties and they were swinging at it,” Kimball said. “Just a two-seam fastball and a splitter and a couple first pitch breaking balls.”
This game also gave the MLB Network audience a chance to see 2010 No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Harper (Nationals). Harper played in right field the entire game and drove in a run with a second-inning single to left field, scoring Marc Krauss (Diamondbacks) for the Scorpions’ second run of the game.
Local Phoenix area native Sammy Solis (Nationals) earned the win for the Scorpions, pitching the first four innings and yielding two runs, only one of them earned, on three hits and one walk. Another Arizona product, Tom Wilhelmsen (Mariners), took the loss after giving up the game’s final run in the fourth inning after relieving Peoria starter Kyle Greenwalt (Astros).
Charles Blackmon (Rockies) paced the Scorpions attack with two hits, including a double, and a walk in three trips to the plate. Javelinas outfielder Adam Loewen (Blue Jays) also had a perfect day at the plate, with three singles and a walk in four at-bats.
The Javelinas scored the game’s first run in the top half of the second inning as Ryan Lavarnway (Red Sox) crossed the plate when Mike McDade (Blue Jays) grounded into a force-out. The Scorpions came back in the bottom of the second with Jordan Pacheco’s (Rockies) sacrifice fly plating Derek Norris (Nationals), followed by Harper’s run-scoring single.
Peoria tied the game in the top of the fourth as Dustin Ackley (Mariners) came in from second base after second baseman Charlie Culberson (Giants) booted a two-out ground ball, his second error of the game. Scottsdale came right back in the bottom half of the fourth with the eventual winning run on back to back doubles by Blackmon and Steve Lombardozzi (Nationals).
Both teams’ bullpens took over for the final 4 ½ innings, with only one runner advancing past second base the rest of the way.
• Ackley earned the Joe Black MVP Award as the AFL’s Most Valuable Player. The lefthanded hitting second baseman and 2009 No. 2 overall pick led the league in all slash stats at .424/.581/.758. He drew 26 walks while striking out just 11 times. His .581 on-base percentage was a new league record, topping the previous high of .537 set in 2002 by Ken Harvey. Ackley was asked before the championship game about his improvement at the plate as the fall season progressed.
“I just think seeing the ball good,” Ackley said. “I just felt a lot more comfortable as the games have been going on . . . my balance and timing have been pretty good. I really attribute it to that.”
• Conor Gillaspie (Giants) and Loewen (Blue Jays) tied for the league head in home runs with 5. Andrew Lambo (Pirates) topped all hitters with 23 RBIs. Ben Revere (Twins) was the leading base stealer with 13 in as many attempts.
• Lefthander Marc Rzepczynski (Blue Jays) led all pitchers with a 1.16 ERA and tied with four others to lead the league with four wins. Chance Ruffin (Tigers) was the league’s top reliever with four saves. Josh Collmenter (Diamondbacks) and Alex Cobb (Rays) led all pitchers with 30 strikeouts.
• Lombardozzi (Nationals) was presented with the AFL’s Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award prior to the championship game. The award, named in memory of the former Red Sox and Reds 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. Lombardozzi, the son of the former major league infielder by the same name, hit .293/.385/.439 for the champion Scorpions.