In each of the last 10 seasons, the winner of Game 1 of the Pacific Coast League Finals has gone on to win the title.
The Omaha Storm Chasers claimed that historic advantage Wednesday afternoon, rallying to edge visiting Salt Lake, 3-2. Veteran first baseman Ben Broussard had three hits and drove in two of the runs, including the go-ahead tally in the eighth inning.
The 36-year-old Broussard was a second-round pick by the Reds in 1999 and spent parts of seven seasons in the Majors between 2002 and 2008, hitting .263/.324/.450 with 87 homers for the Indians, Mariners and Rangers. After just seven contests with Triple-A Charlotte in 2009, the first baseman retired at age 32.
Four years later -- after releasing his second acoustic rock album, Renovated, and doing some surfing -- the Texas native decided he had some baseball left to play.
"Last August, it seemed like baseball just kept coming up all the time somehow," Broussard said. "I thought I'd put that part of my life behind me, but I started to get the urge again. I'd retired because I didn't feel like I had the fire you need to play, but I realized that maybe I still had some.
"It took a lot of soul searching and conversation with my wife, but we decided to go for it. She quit her job and I went to play winter ball in Mexico and was fortunate to get an offer to play for Mexico City in the spring.
"I made a ton of phone calls. Organization people I talked to were usually like, 'Do you want to get into coaching?' and I said that no, I really wanted to play again."
He started the season with the Diablos Rojos in the Mexican League, hitting .304 in 19 games. Shifting to the independent Atlantic League, Broussard batted .302 in 44 games with Long Island before signing with the Royals and joining Triple-A Omaha. He batted .295/.363/.395 in 52 regular-season games with the Storm Chasers.
The contest began Tuesday night but was interrupted by rain in the middle of the second inning. The two clubs waited out a 2:35 delay before officials opted to suspend the game with the score tied, 1-1. Broussard had given Omaha the early lead with an RBI single in the first, but Salt Lake's Rusty Ryal answered in the second with a run-scoring single before the rains came.
Both teams were forced to turn to new pitchers as play resumed at 1:05 p.m. CT on Wednesday: for Salt Lake, Barry Enright replaced Matt Shoemaker and Omaha's Clayton Mortensen took over for starter Chris Dwyer. Both relievers had worked as starters during the regular season.
The Bees took the lead in the fourth inning when designated hitter Luis Rodriguez blasted a leadoff shot to right. It was the 33-year-old's first long ball of the playoffs after clubbing 10 during the regular season.
Salt Lake's offense turned stagnant after Rodriguez's homer -- Mortensen went five strong innings allowing one run on two hits while striking out eight before giving way to the bullpen and the Bees did not reach base in the final three frames.
Enright gave up five hits and a walk in 4 1/3 innings for Salt Lake but escaped damage thanks to a trio of 6-4-3 double plays -- one each in the third, fourth and fifth innings. Jeremy Berg took over for Enright with one out and men on first and second in the sixth inning and promptly induced a fourth double play as Broussard bounced out, 6-4-3.
"They really made some great plays in the field -- two or three 'web gems' for sure," Broussard said. "You just have to tip your cap to them and try to hit the ball hard next time."
Omaha bounced back to tie the score on three consecutive two-out hits in the seventh inning: a single by Rey Navarro, an RBI double into the left-field corner by Manny Pina and a single to by Paulo Orlando. Pina very nearly gave Omaha the lead, but was thrown out at the plate by Salt Lake center fielder Scott Cousins to end the frame.
Omaha took the lead the next inning. Irving Falu led off the Storm Chasers eighth with a single to right. After a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk, Broussard came up against Bees reliever Dustin Richardson.
"Being in the playoffs in Triple-A is really the closest you can get to the Majors," Broussard said. "That pressure of being up with the game on the line, and they just walked a guy to get to you -- that's a lot of fun. I wasn't thinking about how I'd grounded into a double play last time; I was looking to get a hit."
He got it, singling to center to bring home Falu. After Michael Mariot fanned two in a perfect ninth, the Storm Chasers had a 1-0 lead in the best-of-5 series.
Mariot notched his second postseason save and Buddy Baumann earned the win for tossing a 1-2-3 eighth. Richardson took the loss for the Bees, allowing one run on two hits and an intentional walk in one-third of an inning.
Despite the long delay Tuesday night and the early start today, the two teams will go back at it in Game 2 later Wednesday at 8:05 p.m. ET. Asked if he'd be starting in the nightcap, Broussard replied, "I hope so!"