Daric Barton had 4 HR and 10 RBI in the series.
Down two games to none in their best-of-five playoff series, the Sacramento River Cats came home and took three straight games from the Salt Lake Bees. With a big win on Sunday, the River Cats advanced to the PCL Championship series, their first appearance in the PCL finals since 2004. Daric Barton was the offensive hero on Sunday, while Shawn Kohn and Jerry Blevins starred on the mound.
After blasting a walk-off, two-run homerun on Saturday night to give the River Cats the win and even the series at two games apiece, Sacramento outfielder Danny Putnam was left wondering not if the River Cats would win the decisive Game Five, but who would get the big hit. Putnam’s question was answered in the bottom of the fifth inning on Sunday, when River Cats’ regular season team MVP Daric Barton launched a three-run homerun into the bullpen in right-center to give Sacramento its first lead of the game. The River Cats would never relinquish that lead and would clinch the series with a 4-2 victory.
The game-winning rally came in a fashion that has become familiar territory for the River Cats during this post-season – quickly and without warning. Salt Lake starter Nick Green was cruising early. With two-outs and Gregorio Petit at first in the bottom of the fifth inning, it looked like Sacramento was about to go down quickly in the inning. However, Nick Blasi singled to the shortstop Brandon Wood to extend the inning and put runners at first and second. That brought veteran Lou Merloni to the plate and he delivered a clutch single to get the River Cats on the board.
Up next came Barton, who punished Salt Lake pitching in the five game series to the tune of a .550 batting average. Barton was 1-2 off of Green when he faced the Salt Lake right-hander in the fifth inning. The River Cats’ first baseman worked the count to 2-2, fouling off a couple of pitches. He then took the Green offering deep into the bullpens over the left-field fence to give Sacramento a 4-2 lead and the momentum. The homerun was Barton’s fourth of the series. He had nine during the entire regular season.
The Sacramento bullpen, which struggled in Salt Lake in Games One and Two, came through in a big way on Sunday. Sacramento starter Bobby Cramer, who was making his Triple-A debut, was wild early and lasted only two-plus innings. He allowed two first inning runs and walked four, while striking out four.
Shawn Kohn relieved Cramer in the top of the third with two-on and no outs. Kohn, who spent most of the first half of the season with Sacramento, had been in the Midland Rockhounds’ bullpen over the last two months. He was brought back to Triple-A just before the start of the playoff series to replace Connor Robertson on the roster after Robertson went down with a strained calf.
Kohn was masterful in his relief appearance. He worked four scoreless innings in relief of Cramer, allowing only three hits and no walks. Kohn would earn the win in the game. He was relieved in the top of the seventh inning by lefty Jerry Blevins, who was also a part of the Midland bullpen for much of the last part of the season. Blevins, who was acquired in the Jason Kendall trade, was promoted to Triple-A for the last week of the regular season. He had thrown three scoreless innings in relief in Game Two of the playoff series in Salt Lake.
Blevins repeated that feat on Sunday in Sacramento. He worked the final three frames in almost flawless fashion, allowing only a single and no walks. He struck out six to give him 13 strikeouts in six innings in the series. He also earned the save, his first at the Triple-A level.
The River Cats piled up some impressive statistics during this five-game series versus Salt Lake. The team blasted 13 homers and scored 46 runs. Barton led the team with a .550 BA, while Blasi hit .478, Putnam hit .357 and Merloni batted .364. After struggling in Salt Lake, the River Cats’ bullpen was outstanding at home. Over the three games at Raley Field, River Cats’ relievers did not allow a run in 11.1 innings.
Sacramento heads to New Orleans to face the Zephyrs (Mets’ Triple-A affiliate) in the best-of-five PCL Championship Series. River Cats’ manager Tony DeFrancesco will be looking for his third PCL Championship. He previously won titles with Sacramento in 2003 and 2004. The series begins on Tuesday in New Orleans and will head back to Sacramento on Friday.