DES MOINES - Both sides offered up plenty of fireworks in Monday afternoon’s regular season finale, but it was Memphis’ Mark Hamilton who provided the decisive blast that decided the Pacific Coast League American North championship.
The first baseman launched a solo shot off Iowa reliever Hung-Wen Chen, giving the Redbirds a 7-6 victory at Principal Park.
“We’re in a ballgame that’s tied and it’s late,” said Hamilton. “I’m just up there trying to get a job done, get on base, get something started for our team. I got a good pitch that I knew I could drive and put my best swing on it. It was a cutter that cut back into my barrel. I was looking for something I could elevate and got a good hold of it.”
Hamilton’s blast sends the Redbirds to the first round of the PCL playoffs where they will face Oklahoma City, starting on Wednesday and Thursday at AutoZone Park.
The clutch ninth-inning homer was a fitting capper on a see-saw series that saw Iowa take the opening two games and then Memphis gain a division-clinching split.
“We’ve done that all year,” said Memphis manager Chris Maloney, who led the team to a league championship in 2009. “We had our backs to the wall a lot of games and have found a way to come back. Winning that game yesterday was a must and we came back from the dead today. Those guys have such big hearts.”
But even with a one-run lead in the top of the ninth, it would not be easy for the Redbirds, and reliever Josh Kinney.
Iowa’s Robinson Chirinos led off with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt with one out. But Kinney pitched out of the jam by striking out Sam Fuld and inducing a ground out from Marquez Smith.
“Everybody was kind of used up down there,” Maloney said, referring to his bullpen. “I only had Kinney for one inning and told him I wasn’t going to use him unless he had a save situation. He came through and got it done.”
In winning a second-consecutive division title, Memphis came from behind with three runs to tie in the seventh. The Redbirds opened with a trio of hits to kick-start the rally. Daniel Descalso doubled and scored on a Craig single. Hamilton lined a double into the gap in left center to score Craig. He moved to third on a Mather ground out, and then came into score on a Gotay sacrifice fly.
Memphis got another solid outing from its bullpen to shut down the Cubs. Four different pitchers combined to allow just two hits and a pair of walks in four innings of relief for starter Evan MacLane.
The Cubs appeared to be in control after scoring three runs in the fourth and adding one in the fifth.
Iowa’s Jason Dubois evened the score at 3-3 with a colossal shot over the skybox suites in left field. With one out, Bobby Scales reached on a throwing error by third baseman Gotay. Chirinos made the Redbirds pay by crushing a MacLane offering into the gap in right-center. After a ground-out by Matt Camp, Jackson sent a double off the center field wall to score Chirinos. Iowa led 5-3 after four innings.
Dubois’ mastery of MacLane continued in the fifth, as the veteran outfielder launched another homer over the left-field suites. Dubois’ 20th homer of the season gave the Cubs a 6-3 lead.
Reliever Matt Scherer entered to start the sixth, closing the books on MacLane. The Memphis starter allowed six runs (four earned) on seven hits over five innings.
The Redbirds opened the seventh with a trio of hits to start a game-tying three-run rally. Daniel Descalso doubled and scored on a Craig single. Mark Hamilton lined a double into the gap in left center to score Craig. He moved to third on a Mather ground out, and then came into score on a Gotay sacrifice fly.
Jackson exited the game after Descalso’s single. He allowed three earned runs on seven hits in six-plus innings. Justin Berg relieved Jackson and was charged with a pair of earned runs in just an inning of work.
© 2010 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.