With their leadoff hitter setting the tone and the organization's top prospect showing up for support, the Lancaster JetHawks wrapped up their 2014 season with their second California League championship in three years.
Brett Phillips collected three hits, three runs and two RBIs and injured No. 1 Astros prospect Carlos Correa surprised his team by showing up to cheer them on as Class A Advanced Lancaster routed Visalia, 10-2, in Monday's California League Championship Series finale.
"It's unexplainable, winning a championship, winning a ring," Phillips said from a raucous JetHawks clubhouse after the win. "It's one of those things you have to be out there and experience. There's no words to explain how I'm feeling right now. It just feels great."
Promoted to Lancaster after 103 games with Class A Quad Cities this year, Phillips finished his season much the way he played during his entire stay in the California League. The 20-year-old accounted for his team's first four runs in Game 5, doubling and scoring in the first, driving home two with a single in the second and walking and scoring again in the fourth.
"There's a saying that when I go, we go," Phillips said. "That's what I had to do. It's just one of those things as a leadoff batter, you have to step up and get on base. It doesn't necessarily have to be a home run. Just get things going, get the momentum rolling for the team."
Leading in the sixth, 5-2 , Phillips singled to kick off a five-run frame that put the game out of reach.
"Every time we got runners on base and someone came up big, the momentum just kept rolling," he said of Lancaster's 14-hit attack. "I remember being up at one point, like 8-2, thinking in the back of my mind, 'We've got this game.' Everyone stepped up tonight."
Neither starter lasted beyond the fourth, but Lancaster's bullpen came through in a major way. Tyler Brunnemann (1-1) was named Most Valuable Player of the Championship Series, striking out six in three perfect innings to earn the Game 5 win.
"Every time Tyler Brunnemann goes to the mound, I have 100 percent confidence in him," Phillips said. "He's been great all year. From the Midwest League to the California League, it doesn't matter. The guy just goes out and competes."
Lancaster missed out on a chance to close the series Sunday, but Correa made sure it didn't happen in the final game. The shortstop, who suffered a season-ending fractured fibula on June 21, decided to fly to California after Game 4 and surprise his team at the ballpark ahead of Monday's finale.
"I can't say enough about Correa showing up," Lancaster manager Rodney Linares said. "That was huge. He flew in from Florida just to be here and support the guys. That was a big surprise.
"They were all ecstatic. A lot of the guys who didn't play with him and don't know him, they were like, 'Look at what this guy did at such a young age, to come in and show his support, shake everybody's hand, start hugging guys.'"
After throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, Correa -- back in his JetHawks uniform for the first time in nearly three months -- was more than just a cheerleader.
"During the game, there was a situation where [No. 9 Astros prospect] Rio [Ruiz] made an error [at third base] and cost us a run with two outs," Linares said. "I told [Correa], 'Make sure you talk to Rio, tell him to slow himself down and focus.' He did a great job. He was my extra coach today, and I'm going to appreciate that for the rest of my life. That shows me he has a lot of class."
"He's a part of this win," Phillips added. "He set the tone ... him and Tony Kemp and Teoscar Hernandez and the rest of the guys. They set the tone for this championship, this playoff. They got us here, and we just had to do our jobs and finish it. It was great seeing him. He's a great teammate and just came out to support us."
Correa, Kemp and Hernandez were key components in the JetHawks' 44-26 first half that captured the South Division title. Phillips, Ruiz and others then brought Lancaster over the finish line. Ruiz collected three hits, an RBI and a run scored in the win.
"It was a trying year with all the personnel changes, all new players coming in and winning it with only three guys in the lineup who were here at the beginning of the year (Ruiz, Danry Vasquez and Roberto Pena)," Linares said. "I can't say enough about the support I've gotten from everybody, not only from the players but the whole administration, my family, everybody."
Linares drew on support not only from his team, but from his 9-year-old son, Bryan, throughout the long season.
"My kids are the ones that keep me going," he said. "With him praying so hard and saying, 'You guys are going to win,' he gave me a second wind."
Phillips echoed his manager's team-wide praise.
"The MVP trophy goes to everyone on the team," he said. "There's not a single person that sticks out in my mind or anyone's mind this whole playoffs. We all just played as a team, and it was great.
"We deserved this."