The Omaha Storm Chasers backed their way into the Pacific Coast League playoffs with a losing record (70-74), yet on Tuesday night, reigned supreme as the Triple-A Champions. Omaha held on to beat the International League Champion Durham Bulls, 2-1.
The Storm Chasers went 7-1 in the postseason, sweeping the team with the best record in the PCL (OKC) and then beating Salt Lake in four games. They then beat the Bulls last night, who started one of Omaha’s former stars.
Jake Odorizzi was the big name getting the start for Durham and he really did not disappoint, as he struck out eight over four innings. However, Omaha squeaked out one run against him and worked him into a high pitch count (and then he was called back up to the big leagues).
Omaha’s offense only went down in order twice and that was in the final two innings. They only scored two runs and left a village on the base paths (nine).
They scored their first run in the second inning with two outs. Lane Adams, who started the 2013 season in High-A Wilmington and did not join the Storm Chasers until the playoffs, drove a ball that I thought was gone. It however stayed in the ballpark and he had a double. Manny Pina followed with a base hit to get them on the board.
Omaha would tack on the eventual game-winning run against IL Pitcher of the Year JD Martin in the sixth and again the scoring came with two outs. Pina walked to start the rally. Up came Paulo Orlando, who had already stranded runners in his first two at-bats. He singled to move Pina up to second base and Irving Falu (who was promoted to the big leagues after the game) drove in the final run on his third hit of the game.
The star of the game (and MVP) was Omaha starter Chris Dwyer. Going into the game, I wondered how effective he would be, considering he only threw two total innings in the postseason (he did not make a start in the semifinals and his start in the finals was suspended after two innings). So he threw 35-40 pitches over about a two week span.
That time off paid off, as he was perfect heading into the seventh inning. He had quick innings, with many of his strikeouts coming on three to five pitches. I do not think I had ever seen him THAT sharp. Dwyer also had some help from his defense, mainly Orlando in centerfield. Orlando made a sliding catch in the fifth inning and then a great running catch into the right centerfield gap off the bat of Mike Fotenot in the sixth that I thought for sure was a double. The 6th inning was the one inning that the Bulls hit Dwyer hard.
On to the seventh Dwyer went and he struck out the first two batters he faced (he got the Bulls leadoff hitter twice in the game). Up came Bulls shortstop Tim Beckham and he laced a single to right field to break up the perfect game. Dwyer had retired 20 batters in a row and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Plus, the Storm Chasers got bullpen action for the very first time. Dwyer bounced back to strike out Vince Belnome on a check swing to end the inning and end Dwyer’s night on a high note (and with a pump of the fist).
Dwyer was done after seven. He allowed one hit over seven innings and struck out eight. His reward, besides being named MVP, was his first big league callup.
In came closer Michael Mariot, who ended up allowing more base runners in 1.2 innings than Dwyer allowed across seven. Mariot allowed a two out, pinch-hit solo home run that was hit a LONG way over everything in right field by Leslie Anderson. Fotenot followed with a laser hit right back to Mariot that he caught, but almost fell over making the play.
Mariot started the ninth inning and recorded the first two outs fairly easily. Then he allowed a base hit and walked Beckham to put the tying run in scoring position for Belnome, who had a ton of family and friends in attendance (he is a local guy). That brought in Omaha closer number two, the side-arming lefty Zach Jackson. Jackson just blew Belnome away to set off the celebration.
The Omaha players all swarmed Jackson and catcher Manny Pina around the mound and jumped around with huge smiles on their faces. Orlando pulled a Brazilian flag out (from where, I have no idea) and was wrapped up in that.
The trophy celebration was quite entertaining, as PCL President Branch Rickey did not know the name of the team that won (he called them Oklahoma City twice) and he could not remember the name of the host team as he was thanking them. All I could think was, what was he doing up in the suite during the game?
*Most fans at Coca-Cola Park were fans of the host team, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Despite the chilly night, many stayed around hoping they would see history. However, once the perfect game ended, it was mass exodus for the parking lot.
**Beckham’s reward for breaking up the perfect game was a big league callup too.