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San Jose's Okert shuts door for Cal League

Giants prospect escapes in ninth inning, gets 'clubhouse MVP' belt
June 18, 2014

WILMINGTON, Del. -- San Jose Giants left-hander Steven Okert quietly wandered out of the locker room about 20 minutes after recording a dramatic save in the California-Carolina League All-Star Game. He wore a sly grin on his face and a belt that would make Aaron Rodgers proud.

Okert came on in the bottom of the ninth inning with runners on first and second, none out and the Cal League clinging to a one-run lead. He needed only nine pitches to retire three straight batters and lock up a 3-2 victory Tuesday night at Frawley Stadium.

That performance earned him the "clubhouse MVP" belt from Cal League manager Denny Hocking. It was a belt that looked much like the kind Rodgers loves -- one from the world of pro wrestling -- and Okert wore it proudly after escaping a tough spot.

"It was a lot of fun coming in in that situation," Okert said. "I just tried to keep the ball low so they couldn't do anything with it."

Okert struck out Winston-Salem's Courtney Hawkins before Salem's Kevin Heller popped to first on the next pitch. That proved to be a big out because Okert could end the game with a force anywhere.

"You can take a little bit of a breath after that one," he said.

Okert struck out Potomac's Shawn Pleffner to wrap it up. Seven strikes on nine pitches closed out the win and made sure the Cal League didn't squander an early three-run cushion.

Hocking let his own pitcher, Inland Empire's Austin Adams, start the ninth. The plan was for him to pitch to two batters before bringing in Okert. Adams gave up back-to-back singles that made Okert's that much tougher.

The skipper said he was hoping Okert could get the first two batters out. That would match him up against Pleffner, a left-handed hitter, and that's exactly what happened. Okert didn't have much trouble in striking out the Nationals prospect.

But Hocking laughed afterwards, telling a story about what happened when Pleffner was at the plate. The manager noticed that Lancaster catcher Roberto Pena kept looking into the dugout and laughing, so Hocking asked after the game what he found so funny.

"He said, 'I figured this guy, if he was going to hit a fastball, he had to go to the cage because all he was getting was sliders," Hocking said, laughing. "It's nice to see that kind of smarts."

Okert stayed with sliders and got the strikeout. And that let him walk around the field, into the dugout and talk to friends afterwards wearing the gaudy belt. He kept it on for a long time, wearing a big smile to go with it.

"I enjoyed it a lot," Okert said. "It's the first All-Star Game I've ever been to. It was a great experience with all those great guys."

Jeff Seidel is a contributor to