The Inland Empire 66ers were decided underdogs in the California League Championship Series. Their opponents, the San Jose Giants, boasted the circuit's best overall record at 83-57 and a league-leading 3.66 team ERA. And they'd beaten the 66ers 11 times in 14 regular-season meetings.
So much for the odds.
Inland Empire completed a three-game sweep with a 3-1 victory on Saturday night at San Jose, capturing the sixth Cal League crown in franchise history and first as an Angels affiliate.
"It has been an absolutely remarkable run these kids had," 66ers manager Bill Haselman said. "They have confidence and grit, and it showed throughout the playoffs. It's been unbelievable."
Andy Workman, who hit .364 with a homer and four RBIs in the sweep, was named Finals MVP. In Saturday's clincher, he put Inland Empire on the board with an RBI single in the first inning and plated another run with a fielder's choice in the seventh that opened a 3-1 lead.
"Boy, did he step up," Haselman said. "His home run [on Friday] was huge, he had two RBIs tonight and beat out a ground-ball double play to get in that insurance run. That insurance run changes the aspect of the last innings as far as what [San Jose] has to do in terms of getting runners on and moving them over. And his center field play was unbelievable. He's a leader out there."
Drew Rucinski held the Giants to a run on five hits and two walks while striking out six over 6 1/3 innings to improve to 3-0 in the postseason. Game 1 featured a stellar outing from Orangel Arenas, while Dan Reynolds dazzled in Game 2.
Haselman said his team got out of tough situations throughout its playoff run with strong defense, singling out second baseman Alex Yarbrough and shortstop Eric Stamets, the Angels' eighth- and ninth-ranked prospects, respectively.
"We executed on defense and we did not make many errors in the playoffs," said the 13-year Major League veteran. "We have a darn good middle infield."
Even so, the postseason was a roller-coaster ride for the 66ers, who secured a Wild Card berth with a 69-71 overall record. They edged Rancho Cucamonga, 2-1, in the best-of-3 mini-series, then eliminated Lancaster by winning a remarkable 15-inning, 5 1/2-hour marathon in the decisive fifth game.
"We were up against Rancho and they came back. We were losing going into the bottom of the ninth and it was win or go else go home," Haselman said. "Against Lancaster, twice they had the bases loaded with no outs in extra innings -- in the bottom of the inning -- and we got out of it.
"Lancaster beat us head-to-head in the regular series and we beat them in five. I'd be foolish not to say there's a lot of luck involved, but we played fundamentally good baseball. To be able to go through those two teams, it just shows you what the playoffs is all about. To come here and sweep -- it's unbelievable. These guys are unbelievable. In the playoffs, their confidence is so high and they're so hot at times, they could have beaten anybody."
Still, with a 2-0 series lead against the Giants, Haselman's team felt pressured to take the first of what could have been three straight games at San Jose.
"I think [Friday's] game, believe it or not, was crucial. I've been in this league a lot of years and I have not done well here. I know how good [the Giants] can be," he said. "We haven't had success here. We wanted to win now. We knew how good their pitching is and we didn't want to give them one more chance with this lead."
Before the 66ers celebrated their way into the offseason, Haselman offered some parting words.
"I just told them the playoff run they had was one of the most unbelievable and best I've personally been a part of in baseball. Watching them develop and do what they did was absolutely amazing," he said. "I don't think they realize how difficult it is to do what they did. To win a championship in any league takes an awful lot, and to do it in this league, with three rounds of playoffs as the Wild Card, is incredible."
Jesus Galindo drove in San Jose's lone run with a fifth-inning triple. Giants No. 19 prospect Adalberto Mejia (1-1) took the loss after allowing three runs -- two earned -- on six hits over 6 1/3 innings. He struck out five and walked two.