The Gulf Coast League Nationals got off to a fast start under the tutelage of first-year manager Patrick Anderson.
They were 7-1 when a postponement forced a doubleheader July 2. The GCL Marlins then no-hit the league's hottest team in the first game of the twinbill. That could have derailed the Nationals early in the young season. But they turned around and won the nightcap, 11-0.
"That was a really great moment for us," Anderson said. "We didn't freak out or anything. We just put it behind us and exploded in that second game. You could feel that was a turning point."
They never looked back, all the way to a Gulf Coast League title.
The Nationals defeated the Red Sox, 7-2, on Sunday to sweep the best-of-3 GCL Championship Series. The team won all three playoff games after going 49-9 in the regular season to complete the most dominating 2013 campaign in the Minor Leagues.
Their .845 winning percentage not only set a league record, but also bested the 1979 Paintsville Yankees' .800 number for the best percentage by a domestic-based short-season or Rookie-level club.
"These guys really embraced each other through the entire season and really worked and fed off what each other was doing," Anderson said. "But I won't sugarcoat it. We hit the ball well. We threw the ball well. We caught the ball well. It was great to see from start to finish."
The Nationals drew first blood in the third inning. Cleanup hitter Randy Encarnacion walked, moved to second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, and scored on another wild pitch by Red Sox starter Jalen Williams. Wilmer Difo and Garrett Gordon added RBI singles in the frame to give the visitors a 3-0 lead in the early going.
That was all the offense they would need on the afternoon thanks to starter Wander Suero. The 21-year-old right-hander, who was 8-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 13 regular-season appearances, allowed one run on one hit and three walks while striking out seven over five innings.
"We were really fortunate that we were able to set things up to get him out there," Anderson said. "You could always tell with his mentality, that he wouldn't be fazed by this game. They have a really nice facility here at JetBlue Park; it's a replica of Fenway. But he put in a real blue-collar effort today, really pounded the zone."
Heading into the seventh leading, 4-2, the Nationals, who scored eight times in the same frame Saturday, added insurance runs courtesy of a two-RBI double by Jose Marmolejos-Diaz and Encarnacion's single.
The heart of the lineup -- Osvaldo Abreu, Drew Ward, Encarnacion, Marmolejos-Diaz -- contributed seven of the team's 11 hits, five RBIs and five runs. That core had also helped lead the Nats to league highs in average (.281), OBP (.359), slugging (.374), OPS (.732) and runs (319) this season.
"It's a neat part of this team that everyone has a role, they know that role and they play up to it well," Anderson said. "Days like today and yesterday, they feed off each other, and look, we were very aggressive out there today."
Michael Sylvestri closed the door with two one-hit frames to seal the title.
"It was like every other scene for these things," Anderson joked. "I can't even put words to it. The way these guys come together over a long season, and for it to come together like this, it's great.
"These guys come from the Dominican, Venezuela, the U.S., Canada and everyone gets along. You see it in stretches. You see it on the bus. It's really a tribute to the scouting department and the character guys they've been able to get for this organization. It makes my job a lot easier."