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Desert Dogs Win AFL Title In Grand Style
By Jack Magruder
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--Don Murphy (Royals) hit the first pitch he saw in the eighth inning for his first professional grand slam, breaking a tie and lifting the Phoenix Desert Dogs to the 2004 Arizona Fall League championship Saturday.
Murphy hit an opposite-field line drive into the bullpen in right field off Scottsdale Scorpions reliever Steve Schmoll (Dodgers) for a 6-2 victory before 1,981 at Scottsdale Stadium.
"That (opposite field) is my strong point when I'm swinging it well," said Murphy, who had four homers in the regular season that started in high Class A Wilmington and ended in Kansas City. "I thought it was just a double and it kept going. Surprised me."
Pinch-hitter Carlos Ruiz (Reds) opened the Phoenix eighth with a walk off Ben Diggins (Brewers) before Omar Quintanilla (Athletics) singled through the hole between first and second to move Ruiz to third. Tommy Murphy (Angels) reached on second baseman Kevin Howard's (Reds) fielding error, loading the bases, before Schmoll (Dodgers) replaced Diggins.
Quintanilla, who finished fourth in the league batting race at .374, had three of the Desert Dogs' nine hits--a single, double, triple and a walk--as every eligible Phoenix position player got in the game.
Phoenix righthander Huston Street (A's) pitched the final two innings for his second victory of the season, giving up a leadoff single in the ninth before retiring the final three batters.
The Scorpions, like Phoenix 21-15 in the regular season, had only a Tommy Whiteman (Astros) single after Whiteman hit a bases-empty home run with one out in the top of the third for a 2-0 lead.
Relievers Keith Bucktrot (Phillies), Wes Wilkerson (Royals) and Street retired 17 straight Scottsdale hitters entering the ninth.
"We were fortunate to clinch on Tuesday, and we were able to set up some pitching," Phoenix manager Dean Treanor (Marlins) said. "We went with our best. We tried to make this a seven-inning game.
"That's why Wilkerson went out in the seventh, and then we turned it over to Mr. Huston St reet, and he did what he's done all year. From the pitching side, he's the talk of this league. I think you are going to see him in the big leagues next year."
Street and Wilkerson tied for the Fall League regular-season ERA title at 0.98, giving up two runs in 18 1-3 innings. Street's fastball was clocked at up to 94 mph in the Fall League.
"I can't say enough about him or his stuff," Treanor said. "You saw him sandwiched between the first and second rounds because a lot of people missed on him. He's got what it takes inside."
Street said he plans to move to the Valley in early January to work at the Athletes Performance facility in Tempe.
"Torture my body and get myself in the best shape as I can be in so I'm ready," the former Texas star said. "My goal is to make as many improvements in my game and come into camp as ready as I can be. If I get that (major league) opportunity, I'll try to make the most of it.
"This has probably been the most fun baseball total experience as I have had in my life. I've never been around a group of guys that jelled like we did. I'll cherish these six weeks forever."
The Scorpions opened the scoring in the second inning when 1999 first-round pick Corey Myers (Diamondbacks), who ranked second in the league in batting (.400, behind the .404 mark of the Tigers' Chris Shelton) and doubles (11), led off the inning with a solo homer. Whiteman's homer in the third was his first of the season.
Jeremy Hermida (Marlins), whose seven homers in the regular season tied him for third in the AFL, opened Phoenix's two-run third with a 430-foot homer, and pinch-hitter Jeremy Brown (A's) drove in the tying run after consecutive singles by Mark Teahen (Royals) and Ryan Howard (Phillies).
Quintanilla doubled with two outs in the fifth but was thrown out at the plate by center fielder Marland Williams (Diamondbacks) after Nick Gornealut (Angels) singled through the box.
• Call 2004 the year of offense--league teams set records for average runs per game (12.07), batting average (.292), hits per game (20.46) and slugging percentage (.444), according to research done by Baseball AZ publisher Mike Holden. The overall league ERA was 5.32, the highest in the league's 13 seasons, and the six shutouts tied for the fewest in league history, first set in 2001.
• In the previous 12 seasons, only four teams hit at least .300 in a season. Grand Canyon (.306) and Scottsdale (.305) and joined the group this season, the first year in which two teams broke .300. Five teams hit at least .290, the most in a single season in league history. There were six previous seasons in which no team broke .290.
• Teahen, who hit .385-2-25, was chosen by league managers as the winner of the inaugural Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award, presented to the Fall League player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership. Stenson played in the Fall League in 2002-03 and was murdered here last season.