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09/08/2008 11:22 AM ET
River Cats one step from PCL repeat
Defending champs battle RedHawks for another ticket to Bricktown Showdown
Sacramento infielder Donnie Murphy had four homers and nine RBIs in the opening round. (Brent Asay/MLB.com)

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Donnie Murphy, if he were to tell the total truth, would rather not be in Sacramento right now. Really, there's not a player at the Triple-A level, if given his druthers, who would choose going for a Pacific Coast League ring over spending a month in the bigs.

Who can blame Murphy? He was in the big leagues as recently as late July, and having to go back down -- especially since he was out of options and had to be designated for assignment -- was a tough pill to swallow.

"Sometimes you feel it's the end of the world," said Murphy, 25, of being designated. "You can't lose focus or give up on yourself. I wanted to find some consistent at-bats, get my swing in order and maybe get another chance. All I can do is go out there and play every day and hope it turns out better next time.

"Baseball is still baseball. You still have to have fun doing it. I still love baseball and I'm trying to win a championship right now."

It certainly makes it better playing for a title. Murphy hit .295 and slugged .568 over the final month of the season, so clearly he didn't sit and sulk. While Oakland is where he'd rather spend his September, he's embracing the idea of being with the River Cats as they try to repeat, especially since he missed out on their run a year ago.

"Last year, I got called up, so even though I got a ring with Sacramento, I wasn't there at the end," Murphy explained. "This would be my first time I'd win and be there for it. I'd like to do that and finish up as strong as I can, go into next year on a positive note."

If the first round of the PCL playoffs is any indication, Murphy is going to feel pretty good about himself heading into the offseason. The infielder hit four homers in his three games of action, driving in nine runs and posting an insane 1.462 SLG.

"Everyone goes through those streaks," Murphy said. "Everything I see right now, I feel I can hit it to all fields. I've been able to get pitches that I've been able to hit with power. It's a good way to end."

It could end with a trip to Oklahoma City and the Bricktown Showdown, but where Murphy will show up in the River Cats infield is harder to predict. He's played second, short and third, both for Oakland and Sacramento, and while the idea of being called a utility man may have made the 2002 fifth-round pick of the Royals once shrink back in horror, it's a label he's more than willing to wear comfortably.

"When I first got drafted, if I never made it at one position, I worried about it," Murphy said. "'Come on now, that's the guy that doesn't play anymore,' I used to say. But I told myself after my last stint with the Royals that I'll have to play more shortstop or even third if they need me to. I realized it might be the best thing for my career.

"The more you play, you realize that versatility helps you out. The more positions you can play, the more you can help the team. That's why I try to get around more. I have no problem with it at all. I'm only 25. I know I have a lot of baseball left. I feel I have a long way to go and have a bright future."

Matchups
Oklahoma RedHawks (75-67) vs. Sacramento River Cats (82-60)
Best-of-5 series begins Tuesday, Sept. 9

Oklahoma hadn't made it to the PCL playoffs since 2005 and this is the first time the RedHawks have gotten past the first round since 1999, when they lost the title to Vancouver. Oklahoma's last championship -- one of two total -- came all the way back in 1965. It took them five games to get past the Iowa Cubs in the first round. Sacramento is one step closer to repeating and getting a chance to defend its Bricktown Showdown crown as well. The River Cats are making their sixth consecutive postseason appearance, having won titles in 2003 and 2004 as well. They beat the Salt Lake Bees in the first round in four games.

Head-to-Head Statistics
Oklahoma
vs.
Sacramento
1-3
W-L
3-1
.242
BA
.293
12
Runs
21
4
HR
6
1
SB
1
4.50
ERA
3.00
27
K
30
4
BB
11

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The RedHawks and River Cats met just four times during the 2008 season, with Sacramento winning three of the four contests.

No one currently on the Oklahoma roster fared particularly well against Sacramento pitching. John Mayberry led the way with four RBIs, but only went 3-for-14 (.214). ... Elizaro Ramirez got knocked around in his one start against Sacramento, giving up four earned runs (six total) on 12 hits over five innings.

Sacramento's Brooks Conrad went 4-for-9 in three games against Oklahoma, Gregorio Petit was 6-for-15 and Travis Buck drove in four runs in 13 at-bats. ... None of the four pitchers who started games against the RedHawks during the regular season will do so in the playoffs. Reliever Jeff Gray appeared in two games, losing one of them and allowing two earned runs over three total innings. Ryan Wing tossed a hitless inning and struck out a pair in one outing.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Oklahoma: The RedHawks hit just .255, but their 35 runs scored was second just behind Sacramento among PCL playoff teams in the first round. Travis Metcalf homered twice in Oklahoma's Game 5 win over Iowa and had three for the series to go along with nine RBIs. Casey Benjamin finished the first round with a .381 average (8-for-21), while OF Ben Harrison went 6-for-15 with a pair of homers. ... Believe it or not, Oklahoma's 4.91 ERA was the lowest among playoff participants. Derek Lee tossed 6 1/3 shutout innings to win Game 2, and Tommy Hunter won the decisive Game 5 by allowing one earned run over six innings. Brian Gordon lost his start, but yielded only two runs over seven innings of work.

Sacramento: The River Cats hit .340 as a team in the first round with 16 homers in four games. OF Chris Denorfia went 11-for-19 (.579) with three homers, 2B Donnie Murphy hit four homers in three games, driving in nine runs, Brooks Conrad had three homers and 3B Jeff Baisley homered twice and drove in six. ... The pitching staff wasn't nearly as successful, with a 5.50 ERA, though most of the damage was done in the 13-10 loss in Game 1. Sean Gallagher tossed five shutout innings for a win in Game 2, and Chris Gissell gave up one earned run in six innings for a Game 3 victory. Vincent Mazzaro finished off the series by going seven frames in Game 4, allowing two runs on nine hits.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.