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11/19/11 7:00 PM EST
Salt River tops Surprise for AFL title
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For the entire Arizona Fall League season, the Surprise Saguaros beat opponents into submission with the best offense in the league. On Saturday in the AFL Championship Game, the Salt River Rafters gave them a taste of their own medicine. Using a five-run seventh inning to break it open, the Rafters came away with a bit of an upset victory, 9-3, over the Saguaros in front of 3,079 at Scottsdale Stadium. It was the bottom half of the Salt River lineup that did most of the damage, highlighted by Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman David Nick's bases-loaded triple in the seventh inning. Salt River pounded out 10 hits to give the Rafters their first title since they were the Grand Canyon Rafters back in 2000. "It was a total team effort," said Nick, who went 2-for-5 with those three big RBIs. "We came out ready to swing it. We knew they were a great team, one through nine they're a really tough lineup. We were a confident bunch as well. We knew we could compete with anybody." The Rafters jumped out to an early lead, scoring twice in the second against Surprise starter Alex Sanabia. And it was the bottom of the lineup that did the damage. Astros outfielder Jake Goebbert drove in the Rockies' Ben Paulsen with a sacrifice fly from the eight-hole. Tigers shortstop Dixon Machado, the No. 9 hitter who hit .118 during the regular season, followed with a two-out single that scored Nick to give Salt River a 2-0 cushion. The Rafters added to their advantage in the third inning, when Fall League MVP Nolan Arenado sent a shot to left that just cleared the fence for a solo home run and a 3-0 lead. "It was a changeup inside," the Rockies' Arenado said. "I got a little nervous. The wind was blowing out and pushed it out a little, which was nice. When I firsts hit it, I thought, 'Ooh, I don't know,' but luckily it went out." Anyone who's watched any Fall League action knew not to feel too comfortable with any lead, given the kind of offensive firepower Surprise has shown all season. After D-backs pitcher Charles Brewer cruised through two perfect innings, Rays first-round pick Mikie Mahtook led off the bottom of the third with a single and Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt hit a shot into the Salt River bullpen to close the gap to just one run. But that was all the powerful Saguaros lineup would muster for most of the day. Brewer, a local product who attended nearby Chaparral High School before attending UCLA, allowed just those two hits in the third and a double to Astros catcher Jason Castro in the fourth. The right-hander went four innings, yielding two runs on three hits while walking none and striking out four. "Changing speeds, that was the thing I told my catcher from the get-go," Brewer said. "They're very aggressive, especially early in the count. Even early in the count, I threw my changeup, I threw my cutter, my curve ball. I kind of threw everything at them. "You're kind of disappointed you made a mistake. Against an offense like this, you give up three hits through four innings, you can't be too upset. I really could care less about my performance as long as my team ended up winning this ballgame." The Rafters made sure of that outcome with that five-spot in the seventh off of Royals reliever Jeremy Jeffress. The right-hander was charged with four runs on two hits, a walk and a wild pitch. The big blow came from Nick off of Marlins lefty Dan Jennings, who relieved Jeffress. "I was looking for a fastball away," Nick said. "I didn't want to try to do too much with it. That allowed me to stay short and put a line-drive swing on it. Luckily, it found a gap." Salt River tacked on one more run in the eighth when a Tim Wheeler (Rockies) sacrifice fly scored Machado following a double by D-backs outfielder Adam Eaton. Salt River's bullpen took it the rest of the way, tossing shutout ball and scattering just three hits until the ninth inning. Surprise threatened in the ninth, loading the bases and scoring a run on a Leury Garcia infield single, before Kevin Mattison popped out to Arenado to end it. "It's a great accomplishment," Arenado said. "We came in here, we were ready to play. Right away, we were very pumped up. We took over. When we got people on base, we got them in. We played the game the right way and did the right things." For Nick and Brewer, along with other D-backs prospects like Eaton (2-for-5), winning it in front of an engaged crowd mostly made up of fans of their parent organization made it a little more special than the typical AFL title. "We definitely had a lot of support the whole season," Nick said. "I had no idea we'd get that kind of support, but we had fans coming out every single game, cheering us on. It was such a blast, such a fun experience. It's a great way to go out." "I was so pumped," said Brewer, who left around 30 passes for friends and family to attend the game. "It was one of the most exciting games I've ever pitched. I had 30 people here supporting me, so that was really cool, not to mention all the people watching on TV. It was a heck of an experience."