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Missions dominate en route to title
11/01/2011 10:00 AM ET
Even in the offseason, the San Antonio Missions can't stop winning.

After posting a Minor League-best 94-46 record and winning its first Texas League championship since 2007, the team has earned the 2011 MiLBY awards for Best Double-A Team and Best Overall Team.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats

What do you get when you mix a prospect-laden team with a former Major League catcher? If you're the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, you get an Eastern League championship. Helmed by skipper Sal Fasano and led by league MVP Travis d'Arnaud, All-Star outfielder Anthony Gose and former first-round pick Deck McGuire, the Cats clinched the Eastern Division, then defeated Reading and Richmond en route to the first league title in franchise history.
San Antonio dominated the competition throughout the year, winning the South Division crown in both the first half (49-21) and second half (45-25). The club's 94 regular-season wins were 15 more than the next-closest Texas League team, the Frisco RoughRiders. The Missions' success came not from a few dominating players, but from their overall depth -- six hitters recorded double-digit homers, while 18 of the 22 pitchers used by the squad put together sub-4.00 ERAs. As a team, San Antonio led the league with 801 runs scored and a 3.43 ERA.

"Any time you have good or great seasons and win a lot of games, you're going to be up close to the top in those categories," said manager Doug Dascenzo, who now works as the Braves' Minor League outfield and baserunning coordinator. "I don't think [my coaching staff and I had] ever been associated with a team that led both."

While some teams slow down after clinching a playoff spot in the first half, the Missions were able to keep up their league-leading pace with an infusion of talent midway through the year. Third baseman Jedd Gyorko was called up from Class A Advanced, hitting .288 with seven homers and 40 RBIs in 59 games for San Antonio. The team also benefited from a trade, receiving pitchers Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland when the Padres dealt reliever Mike Adams to the Rangers. The pair combined to post a 2.08 ERA in 52 innings.

"We had somewhat of a revamp, and it took a little bit of time in there," Dascenzo said. "I don't think it had anything to do with winning the first half, but more so pitchers adjusting to catchers. That was only for probably a week-to-10-day period, then they kind of picked up and continued on where they'd left off.

"Wieland and Erlin are good solid pitchers, and Gyorko is a solid third baseman and hitter. Those guys came up and did a great job all the way to the end."

In the playoffs, the Missions rolled just the way they had during the regular season. They defeated Frisco in four games in the first round, dropping only Game 2 by a 2-1 score.

San Antonio then went on to sweep Arkansas in the Championship Series, including a 20-inning marathon in the second contest. The game was the longest in Texas League playoff history, ending on a two-out walk-off single by Sawyer Carroll. Though the Travelers took a lead in the 14th on a solo homer by Roberto Lopez, the Missions came back to tie it in the bottom of the frame on an RBI single by Gyorko.

"It was tiresome," Dascenzo said. "Towards the end, I think everyone was a little tired -- mentally drained is another good phrase to use. It's exciting. Any time you get a chance to watch two teams go head-to-head like that and throw punch after punch after punch, it's an exciting game, a tiresome game. It's a mental test on everybody. We were fortunate enough to come out on top."

The final game of the series proved to be less dramatic, as the Missions rode a seven-run sixth inning to a 10-6 win.

"It was a lot of emotion," Dascenzo said. "We were very happy for all the guys, all the players -- the guys who were there as well as guys who were part of the team in the first half. I got messages from guys even at the Major League level who had participated with the San Antonio club.

"It was very exciting, thrilling and joyful. It was a goal accomplished. That's what you set out to do every single year. One, for guys to get better. Two, to promote guys, which we did. We got nine guys to the Major League level this year. And to win. They were able to accomplish all three things, and that was nice to see."

Dascenzo, who has coached in the Minors for 15 years, called the 2011 Missions one of the best teams he's been a part of. He ranked it at the top with the 2009 Fort Wayne TinCaps, who he managed to a Midwest League title that year.

"It's right up there, there's no question," he said. "Right up there with the '09 team. It was pretty much the same core group of guys. There were 17 guys on the '09 team that participated on the 2011 club. Both of those teams, with a handful of guys that were different. They [won titles] two out of three years. It was nice to repeat that again."

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