The Omaha Storm Chasers clinched their third Pacific Coast League Championship in four seasons Sunday at Werner Park in Omaha, defeating the Reno Aces 4-0 in a winner-take-all Game 5. It was the first time the Championship was pushed to a deciding fifth game since 1998.
Omaha struck for two runs in the first inning on a double by catcher Brett Hayes. They scored again in the second on a single to center by left fielder Whit Merrifield. And they tacked on another run in the eighth, but Omaha starter Aaron Brooks wouldn't need the insurance run.
Brooks, who won his third straight post-season start and seventh consecutive start dating dating back to August 13, was masterful. He tossed a complete-game two-hit shutout, striking out nine and retiring the last twenty men he faced. Nobody reached base against him after Reno third baseman Andy Marte doubled with one out in the third inning. Brooks threw 119 pitches and says he was running on "all adrenaline" at the end.
The 23-year-old righty was named the 2014 PCL Playoffs MVP, and rightfully so. In his three wins, he only gave up two runs 24 innings (0.75 ERA).
"We came together as a group, and if we could, I'd love to throw this MVP award to the whole team because we did so well," Brooks said. "But it's definitely an honor and a privilege."
Was there any chance he wasn't going back out for ninth, given that he was already over 100 pitches?
"I think there might have been, but Hayes came in and told [manager Brian] Poldberg there was no way - to let me go [back] out," Brooks said.
"I've got to tip my hat to him, and to [pitching coach] Larry Carter who has been working with him," Poldberg said. "Together they've done a great job."
Specifically, Poldberg said Brooks got a feel for his curve ball as the year progressed and that helped him tremendously.
"Once he got on a roll, his confidence level picked up and he believed in himself," Poldberg said.
The Storm Chasers are the seventh team since 1963, when the PCL began playing a consistent Championship Round, to win back-to-back titles. Spokane (73-74), Hawaii (75-76), Albuquerque (80-82), Edmonton (96-97) and Sacramento (03-04 and 07-08) also accomplished the feat. They are also the second team to win three titles in a four-year span since 1963, equaling the effort of the Albuquerque Dukes (80-82).
"This all starts at the top," Poldberg said. "[General manager] Dayton [Moore] has done a great job, so has the scouting department and player development, all the way to the players."
Omaha heads to Charlotte where they will play the Pawtucket Red Sox, champions of the International League, for the Triple-A National Championship on Tuesday night. Omaha is the defending National Champion.