Baragar Leads Sacramento To Triple-A National Championship
MEMPHIS — Caleb Baragar was done.
Ready for the offseason.
And then, all of a sudden, he had to check himself back in.
"When my girlfriend picked me up from the airport I told her, I’m sitting in her car, saying it’s been such a long year, I’m ready to be done," Baragar said. "That Tuesday, I wake up to a text message from [Giants farm director] Kyle Haines. All right, I’ve got to lock back in.”
The text from Haines told Baragar to grab some Triple-A balls and start throwing.
After spending almost all of 2019 with Double-A Richmond (he had made one Triple-A spot start), Baragar was added to the Triple-A Sacramento roster for the playoffs. In Game 5 of the first round of the Pacific Coast League playoffs, Baragar allowed only two hits and one run in five innings to pick up the win.
In his second playoff start he was even better. Baragar held Columbus scoreless for five innings, allowing only two hits to help Sacramento blank Columbus, 4-0, in the Triple-A National Championship game in Memphis. In just his third Triple-A appearance ever, Baragar was named the National Championship MVP.
Baragar struck out three of the first four batters he faced. By the time he struck out Bobby Bradley to start the second inning, he already held a three-run lead thanks to an RBI ground out by Francisco Pena and a two-RBI single by Jacob Heyward.
"I saw a young man who wasn’t scared,” Sacramento manager Dave Brundage said. "Sometimes you’re not sure. Is the moment too big? The moment wasn’t too big against Vegas. He was even better tonight.”
It’s been quite a September for a pitcher who was supposed to be finished on Sept. 2.
"I started playing catch again and started using the Triple-A baseballs," Baragar said. "The ball flies. It’s no secret more home runs are hit here. My fastball has a little more life here. My offspeed stuff is a little tighter. My curveball is not as big and my slider is not as big. So for me, I knew to throw more to a certain spot rather than letting everything break to where it needed to go. I threw some really good curveballs that were like the perfect overlay with my fastball.”
There are a lot of players who can make a case for championship rings today. A lot of the the River Cats contributors this season are now playing for San Francisco.
"There’s a lot of guys in the big leagues who are very proud as well. They were part of this as well. They had a hand in this to get where we are today,” Brundage said. "When you are getting text messages and phone calls from each and every one of them of how proud they are to win a championship—it’s not just the guys in this clubhouse—it’s the guys in the front office, it’s the guys in the big leagues who have helped us.”
Those text messages have had one drawback. After Sacramento won the PCL title, Brundage had close to 40 text messages of congratulations by his estimate. Nestled in the middle of them was a note from Giants assistant general manager Jeremy Shelley telling Brundage that three River Cats were promoted to the major leagues. Brundage didn’t notice the note for close to an hour before getting to tell Enderson Franco, Mike Gerber and Cristhian Adames that they were big league bound.
Like most Triple-A teams, Sacramento roster was an ever-revolving cast. Baragar made only one regular season start but was a postseason star. Mike Yastrzemski was one of the first-half stars before moving on to the major leagues.
But Brundage made sure that Steven Okert, one of the few pitchers to spend the entire season on Sacramento’s roster, was on the mound for the final out. Okert is Sacramento's all-time leader in appearances.
“He’s been there all year," Brundage said. "One of the sentiments on my part, he’s one of only a couple of guys who have been here all year, so he gets to close it out. . . . I knew he wasn’t going to be afraid of the moment.”