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Columbus shines as top Triple-A team
11/01/2011 10:00 AM ET
The Clippers hoisted a pair of trophies in September, more or less engraving their names onto a MiLBY Award in the process.

The Indians' Triple-A affiliate earned the MiLBY as the Triple-A Team of the Year after winning both the International League Governors' Cup Championship and the Triple-A National Championship in a dominating season full of awards and records.

International League Manager of the Year Mike Sarbaugh admitted he was content with seeing some of the organization's top talent progress through his lineup to Cleveland, but winning at the end is always extra icing in the Minors.

"You go into each year and your goal is to develop players and try to win some ballgames along the way," said Sarbaugh, whose team was first Clippers squad to repeat as International League champions since 1991-92. "This year, we were fortunate to do that. To be champions always makes the year worthwhile."

Columbus won the Governors' Cup for a second straight year, which in the Minors typically means a lot of new faces contributed to the success. The Clippers went the distance despite losing some of their top bats during the summer like infielders Lonnie Chisenhall, Cord Phelps and Jason Kipnis.

Columbus also became the second team to claim back-to-back titles in the six-year history of the Triple-A National Championship Game (Sacramento won consecutive crowns in 2007-08).

Bats like Beau Mills, who'd spent most of the last three seasons at Double-A Akron, moved up and made an impact. Panamanian right-hander Paolo Espino did the same, moving back up to Triple-A and earning the win in the Cup clincher after 22 appearances in the Eastern League.

Even in the bullpen -- and even late in the season -- the Clippers had players step up, like Chen-Chang Lee, who took on the closer's role after Zach Putnum was promoted in September.

"Lee's a great pitcher," Espino said. "We both were in Akron most of the year. He's got a sneaky fastball that every hitter says it's hard to see coming out of his hand. I knew he was going to do a great job, and we had a good shot of winning this."

The Clippers went 88-56 and led the IL in wins during the regular season as they earned the West Division title. Sacramento of the PCL was the only other Triple-A team to amass as many wins in 2011.

Columbus led the IL with 152 homers, 570 walks, a .347 on-base percentage, a .770 OPS and 716 runs. The Clippers were one of six IL teams with a team ERA under 4.00, and they ranked second in the circuit with 1,142 strikeouts.

Sarbaugh and the Clippers swept Durham in the first round of the IL playoffs before taking three straight from Lehigh Valley following a Game 1 loss. For Sarbaugh, it was the fifth championship he'd won as a Minor League coach or manager.

After beating Lehigh Valley in the IL Finals, Columbus advanced to a one-game nationally-televised championship in Albuquerque against Omaha, the Pacific Coast League champions. Major League veteran Joe Martinez was the hero that night, holding the Storm Chasers, a Royals affiliate, to three runs on six hits over seven innings to earn the win and MVP honors.

"Whenever you go into a championship game, you want to win," Sarbaugh said. "I think that's why we play the game. But in this type of game, it's different, it's one game and that's it. If you get timely hitting like we did and good starting pitching, which we got, you win."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.