The Omaha Storm Chasers concluded their historic playoff run Tuesday night at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, North Carolina, defeating the Pawtucket Red Sox 4-2, securing their second National Championship in as many seasons.
Pawtucket jumped out to an early lead when leadoff hitter Rusney Castillo homered on the first pitch he saw from Omaha starting pitcher Christian Binford. Castillo recently signed a six-year $72.5-million contract with Boston and is expected to make his MLB debut for the Red Sox Wednesday night.
Omaha responded with a run in the second on a solo home run by third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert. It was the first home run ever hit by Omaha in a Triple-A National Championship Game. The Storm Chasers took the lead in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Cuthbert, making him the second Omaha player (Lorenzo Cain was the first) to record multiple RBIs in a National Championship game.
Binford only pitched three innings, and that was by design. The Storm Chasers relied heavily on their bullpen and got outstanding efforts from Buddy Baumann, Kyle Zimmer (the winner), Andrew Triggs (who displayed phenomenal stuff) and Tim Collins (who picked up the save). The pen gave up just one earned run (the first of the playoffs, in 35.0 inings) on two hits in six innings of work.
Rain interrupted play in the fifth inning for more than an hour. When play resumed, Zimmer gave up a solo home run in the sixth inning to first baseman Travis Shaw that tied the game, 2-2. But it didn't stay tied for long. Omaha catcher Brett Hayes crushed a Miguel Celestino offering offering over the left field wall -- a two run shot to give Omaha a 4-2 lead in the seventh.
"It was a fastball," Hayes told the NBC Sports Network. He was named MVP. "In the previous at-bat he was throwing a bunch of sliders to the guy in front of me and, you know, I was trying to look for a first-pitch heater and he gave it to me. I took a good swing, and it went out."
The bullpen took it from there.
Omaha manager Brian Poldberg becomes just the third first-year Triple-A manager to win a national championship.
"It's been unbelievable," Poldberg told the NBC Sports Network. "These guys have never given up -- the heart that they've shown every day, the comradery, the chemistry -- they show up and they have fun. They enjoy being around each other. They never gave up once and I'm very proud of them."
In the four seasons since Werner Park opened in Omaha, the Storm Chasers have won four division titles, four conference titles, three Pacific Coast League titles and two Triple-A National Championships.
But it doesn't end there.
The Storm Chasers are the first team to qualify for three Triple-A National Championship Games and the third team to reach the Triple-A Championship in back-to-back years
"This doesn't happen by accident," said Omaha owner Gary Green during the trophy ceremony. The Royals, obviously, have the best minor league system in all of baseball."