Twelve-year Major League veteran Doug Mientkiewicz played a lot of postseason baseball as a Minor Leaguer in the Minnesota Twins system.
Fort Myers' first-year manager said that for him and fellow farmhands like David Ortiz, A.J. Pierzynski, Torii Hunter and Corey Koskie, the experience greatly aided their development process. Now Mientkiewicz's Miracle will get a chance to gain that same experience.
Fort Myers clinched the Florida State League first-half South Division title Saturday night with a 5-4 victory over Bradenton as Matt Koch hit a go-ahead solo homer in the sixth inning.
"I knew we had a good team," Mientkiewicz said. "Anytime you get a chance to spread some champagne, it's a good thing."
Fort Myers nearly celebrated on Friday, but Bradenton's Carlos Mesa tied the game in the ninth with a solo homer and Jose Osuna won it with a blast in the 10th.
The Miracle (41-18) again built a lead on Saturday, jumping up, 4-0, by the fourth. The Marauders stormed back with a four-run sixth, but Fort Myers managed to stall the comeback there.
In the bottom of the inning, Koch produced his third homer of the season and second in five games. The 24-year-old catcher recently stepped into a starting role when Kyle Knudson was promoted to Double-A and is hitting .300 with an .800 OPS.
Koch is one of eight members of the Miracle with batting averages over .295 who've played at least 20 games. The team's offense has been headlined by Twins top prospect Miguel Sano and No. 6 prospect Eddie Rosario. Sano leads the league with 14 homers and is batting .327 with a 1.051 OPS, while Rosario is hitting .328 with an .889 OPS.
Sano did not play Saturday due to what Mientkiewicz called a "little misunderstanding on team rules." The manager said the third baseman might be back in the lineup Sunday.
Beyond Sano and Rosario, players like Koch, Kennys Vargas -- who was 2-for-3 with a double, an RBI and a run scored -- and Angel Morales have bolstered the Fort Myers batting order.
Mientkiewicz singled out Vargas as the team's MVP. The first baseman is hitting .296 with 12 homers and a league-leading 51 RBIs. Mientkiewicz called him "probably the most Double-A-ready guy we have."
The skipper suggested that Vargas might be among several players who will head to Double-A New Britain before they get to represent the Miracle in the FSL playoffs.
"We're definitely deeper than most teams right now," Mientkiewicz said. "We expect that to change soon. It doesn't matter who we have in this lineup, we expect to win, no matter who's out there."
Mientkiewicz wants his players "expecting to win, rather than just trying to win." The mental approach was preached heavily to him by the Twins when he rose through the system in the mid-1990s. His hope is that he can help instill that attitude into as many of Minnesota's talented Minor Leaguers as possible. If that happens, players like Sano and Rosario could lead a turnaround for the Major League franchise akin to the one Mientkiewicz helped create in the early 2000s.
"Ever since we all signed, we played together and won at every level," Mientkiewicz said, referring to the players who joined him in leading the Twins to three straight American League Central Division crowns.
"I think that was a big reason why we turned the franchise around, is we believed in each other. We won at every level."