Blasi was named the playoff MVP.
SACRAMENTO, CA – After being pushed to the brink during the first round of the playoffs, the Sacramento River Cats made quick work of the New Orleans Zephyrs in the championship round, sweeping all three games to earn their third PCL title over the last five years. Nick Blasi was crowned the MVP of the playoffs for Sacramento. We have a full report of the game inside…
In a season that featured more than 190 transactions, it was only fitting that the Most Valuable Player of the Sacramento River Cats’ PCL playoff run was a player who wasn’t even supposed to play in Triple-A this season. Nick Blasi, who parlayed what was supposed to be a brief call-up from High-A Stockton in May into a starting spot with the Triple-A River Cats by hitting .316 in 89 PCL games, was named Sacramento’s playoff MVP after batting .457 in the post-season.
“This guy was unbelievable,” Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco said of Blasi.
Blasi took time to reflect on his rise from High-A to PCL Playoff MVP after the game.
“When we [Stockton] played here in an exhibition before the season, I thought that it would be nice to play [with Sacramento] some day. I never expected to be here this season,” Blasi said.
“It means a lot [to win the MVP award]. It’s not the ultimate goal for me, because everyone wants to get to the big leagues, but it is still a pretty nice feeling.”
Sacramento used a strong starting pitching performance from Brad Knox and a dominant relief appearance by Jerry Blevins to quiet the New Orleans offense for much of the night. Sacramento scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning and the combination of Knox and Blevins made that stand-up for the duration.
The River Cats’ four-run rally was a mix of good hitting and some good fortune. The inning began with number three hitter Jorge Piedra drawing a lead-off walk. He would take third on an opposite field single by clean-up hitter Jeremy Brown and would score one-batter later when Double-A call-up Brant Colamarino doubled him home. Colamarino spent the entire regular season in Double-A and had already gone home for the season when the A’s called and asked him to replace the newly promoted Daric Barton on the River Cats’ roster for the championship series. Colamarino responded by hitting .385 and driving-in two runs in the series.
After Colamarino’s double, the River Cats began to receive some of that aforementioned good fortune. Brian Stavisky, who won Game Two with a ninth inning double, hit a grounder to short that should have been an RBI ground-out. Instead, New Orleans shortstop Anderson Hernandez booted the ball, allowing Brown to score and Colamarino to advance to third. Stavisky would finish the game with two hits and an RBI and a .429 BA for the series.
The next batter was Gregorio Petit, who delivered a clutch, two-strike single to left to drive-in Colamarino and bring the River Cats’ lead to 3-0. Sacramento would add one more run on the next play. With runners on first and second, Kevin Melillo dropped down a sacrifice bunt that was fielded by Zephyrs starter Jason Vargas. Vargas fielded the ball cleanly, but hesitated before throwing to first base. His throw was rushed and the ball scooted by first baseman Andy Tracy, allowing Stavisky to score from second. That run would eventually be the game-winner.
Knox worked quickly and breezed through the New Orleans line-up for much of the night. He struck out the first two batters he faced and allowed only one hit through 7.2 innings. It was at this point that Knox began to waiver. Knox struck out Jesus Feliciano to record the second out of the eighth inning. Feliciano argued the called strike and was eventually tossed by home-plate umpire Peter Durfee. There was a roughly seven minute delay in the game while Feliciano exited the field through the center-field fence.
The delay appeared to throw Knox off of his rhythm a bit. He walked the next batter, Shawn Wooten, on four pitches and then threw ball one to Hernandez before throwing two strikes in a row. Then Knox was hit with some of the bad luck that Vargas faced in the fourth inning. Hernandez hit a ground-ball to first that Colamarino appeared in good position to field for the final out of the inning. However, the ball hit the bag and bounced out of Colamarino’s reach for a single.
DeFrancesco stuck with Knox to face veteran Fernando Tatis, who was 0-2 with a walk going into the at-bat. Knox got two strikes on Tatis, but left a pitch up and Tatis deposited it over the left-centerfield fence for a three-run homer. That would be the end of the night for Knox, who finished having allowed three runs on three hits in 7.2 innings. He struck out six and walked three.
“I took two steps out of the dugout before the at-bat [where Tatis hit the homerun]. I sort of second-guessed myself, but you have to give a guy a chance to work his way out of it. He earned that by pitching so well,” DeFrancesco said.
Blevins came-on with two-outs in the eighth and the River Cats suddenly clinging to a 4-3 lead. The lefty quickly quelled the Zephyrs’ momentum by striking out veteran David Newhan to end the eighth. Blevins then worked a scoreless ninth inning to close out the game and the series. The lefty struck out three of the four batters he faced for his second save of the playoffs. Blevins, who was promoted to Triple-A during the final week of the regular season after spending the bulk of the year in Double-A, did not allow a run in 11 post-season innings for Sacramento. He struck out an incredible 20 of the 33 batters he retired during the playoffs.
“Blevins was just incredible the whole playoffs. I felt extremely confident that he’d be able to get the job done,” DeFrancesco said.
The River Cats overcame a seemingly endless number of injuries and transactions in 2007 to put together a magical title run. Blasi pointed out three clubhouse leaders in particular as the glue that helped keep the River Cats’ clubhouse together.
“We have a lot of good players. The thing that I really have to attribute [the team’s success] to – there were three guys who were really with us all season: [Kevin] Melillo, [Lou] Merloni and [Jeremy] Brown, and those three were so much fun and kept the team together. They were just a joy to have in the clubhouse,” Blasi said.
“Every guy that walked into [the clubhouse], they made them feel immediately at home and welcome.”
It wasn’t an easy season for Melillo, who fought a sprained right wrist for much of the second half of the season. Melillo missed a few weeks with the injury and played through the pain for another several weeks. Winning the title made playing through that pain all worthwhile for Melillo.
“[Winning the title] means everything to me. It has been a long year for me personally, battling back from injuries,” Melillo said.
“If it had been any other team and any other situation, I don’t know if I could have played through all that I played through this season, but I love this group of guys and to win this now is just very emotional.”
Stavisky was another River Cat who fought back from injury to contribute late to Sacramento’s post-season run. Stavisky missed much of the season with a broken hand, but he had the game-winning hit on Wednesday night in the ninth inning of the River Cats’ thrilling come-from-behind victory in Game Two of the series.
“That was exciting just to help the team win. It felt good,” Stavisky said.
“Being able to play into the playoffs and win it all and hopefully we’ll win one more, the Bricktown Showdown. After missing three-and-a-half months of the season, to be able to win this league championship and be a part of it, makes it all worthwhile.”
After the game, the River Cats were presented with the PCL Championship trophy by PCL President Branch B. Rickey. Rickey praised the River Cats as “the most recent dynasty in the Pacific Coast League.”
“There must be something very special in Sacramento,” Rickey told the cheering sellout crowd of more than 14,000 at Raley Field after the game.
Sacramento is looking to extend this special season one more step when they square-off against the International League champion in the winner-takes-all Bricktown Showdown in Oklahoma City on Tuesday.
“We aren’t done yet. We have one more to go at the Bricktown Showdown on Tuesday,” DeFrancesco said.
“Keep an eye on us in a couple of days”