The Omaha Storm Chasers (Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals) completed their improbable playoff run Saturday night in Salt Lake with a 10-5 win over the Bees in Game 4 of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) Championship Series to win the series 3-1, securing the team's second PCL title in the last three seasons - becoming the tenth team since 1963 to do so.
Omaha was 70-74 during the regular season, backing its way into the playoffs when division rival Memphis dropped its final two games of the season. Throw in the fact that Memphis was one out away from winning its second to last game of the season (which would have given them the division and eliminated Omaha) against Oklahoma City before disaster struck and they ended up losing in extra innings and you can understand why Oklahoma City broadcaster Alex Freedman sent a tweet after Omaha won the title calling the Chasers a "team of destiny."
"I think there's some truth to that," Jirschele told me via telephone after the game. "We lost some guys at the end of the year to the big leagues and I think it just shows the depth of our minor leagues, that these kids who came up from Double-A have stepped in and did an outstanding job for us and kept us going."
The Chasers lost Francisley Beuno (3-3, 2.66 ERA), Donnie Joseph (4-3, 3.95 ERA), catcher Brett Hayes (17 HR), infielder Johnny Giavotella (.286, 46 RBI) and shortstop Pedro Ciriaco (.281) to the big leagues before the playoffs began.
The Royals assigned RHP Jason Bergmann, RHP Spencer Patton, third baseman Rey Navarro, catcher Mitch Canham, LHP Ryan Verdugo and outfielder Lane Adams to Omaha from NW Arkansas. And reliever Zach Jackson and outfielder Brian Fletcher were also assigned to the Chasers over the final month of the season from NW Arkansas.
"Those guys, they came up at the right time and they fit right in with the club and we didn't miss a beat," Jirschele said. "If anything, we picked up a beat because we had some young blood in here."
Once the Storm Chasers hit the postseason, they hit their stride, winning six of their next seven games - including a three-game sweep over the team with the best record in the league, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, in the PCL American Conference Championship. And they kept the momentum rolling into the Championship Series with Salt Lake, winning the first two games of the series before dropping Game 3.
Omaha scored three runs in the first inning on Saturday night against Salt Lake starter Matt Shoemaker. They scored another one in the sixth and then six more in the eighth to put the game away. The major blow came on a bases loaded triple by Lane Adams in the eighth inning, but it didn't come without a controversy over whether it was fair or foul.
Seven of the nine Omaha batters notched multi-hit games, after only six Chasers had multi-hit games in the first three games of the series combined. Ben Broussard, Rey Navarro, Manny Pina and Adams each had three hits each.
For the past two weeks, Jirschele has been saying that every night someone different steps up and comes through in the clutch, just when the team needs it.
"There was nobody that we depended on to win games for us," Jirschele said. "It was always somebody different. I mean, [Christian] Colon was 0-for-5 tonight, but he made some huge contributions during the playoffs. Broussard had a great game tonight. Navarro had three hits. Pina had three hits again tonight. And Adams had a great night - that bases loaded triple was huge.
"Just everybody's contributing. To me, that's the way you win because you don't have to count on one guy to do all the damage for you."
Brian Sanches finished off a good season by tossing five innings, allowing two runs, to pick up his second win of the postseason and a team-leading 12th win overall. Sanches allowed two earned runs or fewer in 13 of his 15 starts for the Storm Chasers this season, and in his final eight starts he allowed only seven earned runs in 45.2 innings (1.38 ERA). He didn't look as sharp Saturday night, but for the most part, he limited the damage.
"In his defense, he hadn't pitched in a while," Jirschele said. "He came out and he wasn't as sharp as he has been, but he battled to give us five innings. He left one pitch up to [Efren] Navarro and he hit a home run, but other than that, he got into a couple of jams, but he made pitches when he had to."
Omaha's bullpen has had better nights, especially during the postseason. Jackson gave up two earned runs in 2 2/3 innings. Buddy Baumann gave up a hit and a walk without securing any outs. And Michael Mariot gave up an earned run in 1 1/3 innings. But in the end, none of that mattered.
Jirschele has taken Omaha to the playoffs five times in his 14 years as the team's manager. I asked him what he would remember most about the 2013 team, and he began his answer with a joke.
"Maybe the ulcers I have right now," he said. "No, I think it's just the way these guys never quit. There were times that we were down and appeared to be out of the race, but these guys just kept battling and battling and yeah, we needed some help at the end of the regular season and we got it, but we also had to win, too, and we did that."
The Storm Chasers will face the Durham Bulls, champions of the International League, in the Triple-A National Championship on Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. (CDT). The game will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network. Jirschele says he doesn't know yet who his starting pitcher will be.
Chris Dwyer was scheduled to pitch Game 5 of the PCL Championship for Omaha , if necessary, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will take the mound for the National Championship - which, incidentally, is generally viewed as more of an exhibition, but this one will have a bit of a twist to it. Three of the Bulls (Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Jason Bourgeois) played for the Storm Chasers last season.