Sacramento beats Scranton for second straight Triple-A title

OKLAHOMA CITY -- In Todd Steverson's eyes, the Triple-A baseball season couldn't have ended in better hands.

Brooks Conrad singled twice, drove in a run and made a terrific play at second to seal the Sacramento River Cats' second straight Triple-A championship in a 4-1 win Tuesday night against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

Conrad dived to his left to snag Eric Duncan's line drive and threw to first to double off Matt Carson to end the game. He pumped his fist, and the Oakland Athletics farmhands then calmly gathered near the mound to celebrate the championship.

"For him to close our whole season out like that is just pretty much how you would envision it," said Steverson, Sacramento's first-year manager.

He described Conrad as embodying the perfect teammate and having an attitude every day of "Let's just get it done." He said the River Cats had an inside joke about Conrad's penchant for diving frequently -- perhaps too frequently.

"He likes to dive. Now, he will leave his feet. He might miss it sometimes by 4 or 5 feet, but he will leave his feet," Steverson said. "He gives you everything he's got to get the ball.

"You cannot, by no means, put a player down for anything like that. He wants it, and that's what you want as a manager."

Conrad also had an RBI single in Sacramento's three-run first inning against Yankees prospect Ian Kennedy (0-2), and six River Cats pitchers combined to maintain the lead.

Chris Gissell (2-1) won the Bobby Murcer MVP award after throwing three scoreless innings of relief. He retired the final nine batters he faced after allowing a leadoff single by Chris Basak in the third inning.

Murcer's wife, Kay, presented Gissell with the inaugural MVP award named in his honor. The former Yankees center fielder, who was from Oklahoma City, died of brain cancer in July.

"To be able to top the season off like this, it's about as good as it's going to get," Steverson said. "I'm not sure it could get any better."

Sacramento has won four of the last six Pacific Coast League titles and became the first to repeat as the Triple-A champion under a new single-game format. There had been no Triple-A championship for five years before the single-game championship was started in 2006 pitting the PCL winner against the International League champ.

The PCL has claimed all three titles, with Tucson winning in 2006 and Sacramento beating Richmond in last year's championship game.

"I wasn't here last year, so it's a one year in a row thing for me. But you don't see that very often, winning the World Series two years in a row," Gissell said. "This is a good thing for the people of Sacramento."

More than a dozen Sacramento players grew playoff mustaches and beards, a little superstition on their way to the title.

"It's where you want to be every level, wherever you're at," Conrad said. "A whole new group of guys this year obviously, but we had a good group of guys. We had a lot of fun together.

"It was definitely the right mix for a championship, and we got it done."

Sacramento starter Brad Knox had given up 25 runs in his last 10 innings but got out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the first inning when Carson hit a line drive to the track in center field.

The Yankees got their only run on Ramiro Pena's first-ever Triple-A hit, a seventh-inning single to right off Henry Rodriguez. Pena was called up from Double-A Trenton before the game.

"We had a couple opportunities. We didn't get the big, big hit but their pitching staff did a good job and so did ours," Yankees manager Dave Miley said. "If we get a hit here or there, it could be a different story."

Kennedy, the Yankees' 2006 first-round draft pick, didn't allow another run after he yielded RBI singles to Wes Bankston and Conrad, and Casey Rogowski's run-scoring groundout in the first. He struck out seven in five innings, gave up seven hits and walked one.

The Yankees had big league hopes for Kennedy at the start of the season, but he went 0-4 with an 8.17 ERA in 10 major league appearances and got injured early in the season.

He allowed two runs or less in his final four starts heading into the championship game, including five scoreless innings in his previous playoff outing.

"You look at his numbers and they were good enough to win ballgames," Miley said. "We just unfortunately were facing tough pitching in their own right and just weren't able to score many runs."