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Loaded Cardinals clinch division08/28/2012 2:13 AM ET
By Jonathan Raymond / Special to MLB.com
It took 11 innings and 15 hits, but Double-A Springfield eventually scratched across the winning run to dust off Arkansas and clinch the second-half title Monday night.
Jermaine Curtis' single in the bottom of the 11th inning scored Mike O'Neill to give the Cardinals a 4-3 win over the Travelers. In doing so, they also captured the Texas League North crown.
"It was a hard-fought game, a good baseball game. You had the two teams playing for the spot playing each other. It was real competitive," said Springfield manager Mike Shildt. "And then it goes into extras. It was fun to be able to have Curtis get the game-winning hit to end it."
Springfield (40-22) went 35-35 in the first half and had to settle for third in the division, but turned it around in the second half with a balance that included an offense with the league's second-most runs (645) and a pitching staff with the league's third-best ERA (3.82).
"We've got a talented club, guys that can play the game, a high character group," said Shildt. "It's a really special combination of character and talent and guys that are driven to do well, both for their own careers and collectively for the good of the team."
Indeed, St. Louis has collected much of its premium talent in Springfield. Three of the organization's top four prospects play for the Cardinals, and all of them rank in the top 100 overall. Carlos Martinez (No. 2 and 23 respectively) is 4-3 with a 2.94 ERA, Oscar Taveras (No. 3 and 82) has had a monster season, batting .322 with 22 homers, 89 RBIs and a .955 OPS and Kolten Wong (No. 4 and 87) has hit .286 with eight homers and 51 RBIs.
Additionally, Michael Wacha, the 19th overall pick in this year's Draft, recently joined the team, throwing five scoreless innings with just one hit, 10 strikeouts and three walks in two appearances. O'Neill, named Monday to the Florida State League postseason All-Star team, has hit .556 in nine games since his promotion from Class A Advanced Palm Beach.
Shildt said that kind of talent, plus the contributions of guys such as Xavier Scruggs (22 homers, 91 RBIs), Curtis (.320) and Seth Maness (10-3, 3.41) make this team poised for a strong playoff run.
"These guys enjoyed [clinching the division], they felt good about it," he said. "And they should, it's a nice accomplishment any time you win a division championship. They've been ready [for the playoffs] since Opening Day."
On Monday, Maness did not figure into the decision, but scattered three runs on five hits without walking any while striking out three over seven frames for the Cardinals. Chris Swauger homered in the second, Wong went 2-for-6 with double and O'Neill went 4-for-5 with a double, an RBI and a run scored.