SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—In a game in which the two teams combined for seven errors and half of the 10 runs were unearned, the Arizona Fall League championship game ended on one of the best defensive plays of the fall.
The sliding catch in foul territory by shortstop Christian Arroyo (Giants) preserved the 6-4 victory for the Scottsdale Scorpions over the Surprise Saguaros.
Western division champs Surprise was the odds-on favorite coming into the game, primarily because of its deep pitching staff featuring many of the league's best pitching prospects. Saguaro manager Carlos Subero had starters Luke Weaver (Cardinals), Adrian Houser (Brewers) and Josh Hader (Brewers) available to come into the game in relief of starting pitcher Sam Wolff (Rangers). All the Saguaros needed was to score early and then allow the big guns to come in from the bullpen to shut down the Scorpions hitters.
East Division champs Scottsdale didn't follow that script. Instead, Scottsdale starter Taylor Rogers (Twins) hurled three scoreless innings, giving up only two hits, with the game scoreless going to the fourth. That's when the game changed for good.
The Scorpions got the first two runners on base on a pair of Saguaro errors. After a force out at second, Scottsdale had runners on the corners with one out. Subero called on Weaver to face the switch-hitting Dominic Ficociello (Tigers), who drove in the first run of the game with a double to right field. Adam Brett Walker followed with an RBI single and Carlos Asuaje (Padres) drove in another run with a sacrifice fly to left, giving the Saguaros a 3-0 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
The Saguaros loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth with no outs, but could only get one run after Yadiel Rivera (Brewers) grounded into a double play followed by a strikeout of Aledmys Diaz (Cardinals).
Surprise got back into the game with two more runs in the seventh, cutting the Scottsdale lead to 4-3. But Scorpions DH Walker upped the margin back to three with a two-run double off Jacob Barnes (Brewers) in the eighth.
“I tried to stick with my approach," Walker said about the at-bat against Barnes. “You've got guys in scoring position, they try to come after you—they don't want to fall behind. I tried to make sure to get a pitch to hit, and luckily I was able to get a pitch out in the zone and get a hit."
After Jake Reed (Twins) struck out three batters to hold the Saguaros scoreless in the eighth, Scottsdale manager Matt Quatraro called on closer Nick Burdi (Twins) to preserve the Scorpions' 6-3 lead. Dustin Fowler (Yankees) led off the inning with a homer to right, but Burdi retired the next three hitters to end it. Rogers earned the win with his three-inning stint, while Wolff took the loss.
Quatraro was pleased with his how his Scorpions squad handled the pressure of the championship game, especially with the likelihood of having to face many of the league's top pitchers.
“I got so lucky with these guys," Quatraro said. “They were so professional and they played hard the whole time … What I did was stay out of the way …. The guys just responded. Walker with those big hits, they were enormous. I'm really proud of these guys.
• Adam Engel (White Sox) of the Glendale Desert Dogs 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 centerfielder batted .403/.523/.642, pacing all hitters in batting average, on-base average and slugging percentage.
• Yadiel Rivera (Brewers) was presented with the AFL's Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award prior to the championship game. The award, named in memory of the former AFL player who was 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.