Harper the marquee as Scorpions take AFL title
Nats prospects play big roles in conclusion of autumn campaign
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Droves of fans came to Scottsdale Stadium, they watched on TV or followed it online, largely because of Nationals phenom Bryce Harper.
And while the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft gave his supporters a thrill with an RBI single, it was some of his Nationals teammates who came up big to lead the Scottsdale Scorpions to a 3-2 victory Saturday over the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League Championship Game.
The 18-year-old Harper started and hit seventh in the Scorpions' lineup after spending time on the taxi squad, playing just two times a week, this fall. And he didn't waste much time contributing.
With the score tied in the top of the second, Harper took the first pitch he saw from Astros prospect Kyle Greenwalt and hit a bullet the other way to left field to drive in a run and give Scottsdale a 2-1 lead.
"Coming in here, we expected to win," said Harper, who popped up and strike out twice in his other at-bats. "I think we have the best pitching staff out here, we have some guys that can swing it. If one guy doesn't do it, another guy does. The biggest thing we did was have fun. It was a blast."
That pitching staff was led by starter, and Arizona native, Sammy Solis. The Nationals' second-round pick finished off a strong fall campaign by going four frames for the Scorpions, allowing three hits and two runs (one earned). A Solis cheering section made up a nice chunk of the 3,387 fans in attendance.
"My family was taking up an entire section up there," Solis said. "It was nice to have the support and it was nice to play in Arizona. Every pitch was working. It was one of those days -- and they are few and far between, I'll tell you that much. I kept them off-balance; me and Derek Norris work well together."
With Solis and Norris hoping to move up the system and serve as a battery in Washington in the future, that's just more good news for Nationals fans. And that was far from the end of the organization's contributions.
Solis surrendered the lead in the top of the fourth inning, when AFL Most Valuable Player Dustin Ackley led off with a single and came around to score on Charlie Culberson's second error -- his first error helped contribute to the Javelinas' first run of the game -- to knot the game at 2.
A two-out rally by the Scorpions broke the deadlock in the bottom of the frame. Rockies outfielder Charles Blackmon doubled to right to bring up Nationals shortstop Steve Lombardozzi, who was given the 2010 Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award before the game began. Lombardozzi banged a double off the wall to bring home Blackmon and give Scottsdale its final margin of victory.
"It's pretty neat to drive somebody in and make that kind of contribution to the team," Lombardozzi said. "It's been something else. My heart was pumping those last couple innings, even on the bench. This is the first time I've been on a team to win a championship, so it's very special."
There were some nervous moments as the Scorpions protected the lead with five shutout innings from the bullpen. In the eighth inning, the Javelinas got a two-out single from Adam Loewen, who went 3-for-3 on the day, followed by a sharp line-drive single from Mike McDade to put runners on first and second. Indians prospect Jason Kipnis hit a ball back up the middle that Giants reliever Dan Runzler got a glove on, sending it in a different direction. Thomas Field, who replaced Lombardozzi at shortstop in the seventh, was able to shift into reverse quickly, knock the ball down and throw Kipnis out by a hair.
"There wasn't any time to think," Field said. "Almost an instinctual thing, but I knew I had to get rid of it quickly."
"Right there, you could tell things were going to go our way," said Scottsdale manager Randy Knorr.
Knorr, who manages Double-A Harrisburg in the Nationals' system, gave the ball to Nats reliever Cole Kimball to close things out. The hard-throwing right-hander, who was just added to Washington's 40-man roster, struck out Eric Thames and induced two ground-ball outs, allowing the Scorpions to celebrate on their home field.
"I was throwing some splitters to the lefties and mixing it with two-seamers, and it was working for me," said Kimball, who picked up his first championship save.
"It was a great team that came out to play every day and played hard," Knorr said. "My job was to basically stay out of the way."
He'll likely get the chance to be more hands on as these Nationals -- many of whom he's worked with before -- come his way in 2011. He may need to wait a little while to insert Harper's name in the lineup every day rather than just twice a week, but this fall may have helped the young outfielder get there sooner than if he hadn't come to Arizona.
"I've learned so much," Harper said. "Not playing every day, sitting on the bench, I think was a huge experience. Being able to watch the game, seeing what the guys are doing -- to be with these guys who've been in the Minor Leagues a while, it was a great experience."