Devenski deals Grizzlies one more title

Astros right-hander flirts with perfecto as Fresno takes national crown

After their first PCL title, the Grizzlies won the Astros' first national championship. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre/El Paso Chihuahuas)

By Kelsie Heneghan / MiLB.com | September 23, 2015 12:46 AM

EL PASO, Texas -- The Grizzlies arrived at Southwest University Park on Monday afternoon. It was a long day of travel, but Chris Devenski eagerly made his way to the dugout for a first glimpse of what would become his historic stage. At the top step, he looked out at his office for the next two days.

"It's like Petco, but that's on the other side," the Southern California native said of the brick building full of seats in right field. "When I was a kid, I used to go out there to Padre games and it brought back some fond memories."

And on Tuesday, Devenski made the field his own. In his first start at the highest level in the Minors, the Houston's No. 18 prospect carried a perfect game into the sixth inning en route to Fresno's 7-0 win over Columbus in the Triple-A National Championship.

"Every time I go out there, it's more so to challenge myself and push and seeing what I can do and how far I can go," said the right-hander, who threw a no-hitter in 2012. "I was pretty happy that I came up big."

Devenski set a national championship record with nine punchouts, throwing 66 of his 81 pitches for strikes. He allowed one hit over seven frames and was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

"Great pitching by Devenski ... well-deserved MVP," Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco said. "He stepped up and filled in perfectly. He dominated the game for us. No hits going into the sixth inning; complete domination."

Just two weeks prior, the 24-year-old was pitching for Double-A Corpus Christi. He ranked second in the Texas League with a 3.01 ERA while fanning 104 en route to being named the Hooks' Pitcher of the Year. After posting a season-high nine punchouts in Corpus Christi's playoff opener, he moved up to the Pacific Coast League.

With Fresno, Devenski reached 96 on the radar gun as he held Round Rock opponents to two hits while striking out three in two innings over two games.

"I look forward to the pressure," the Cal State Fullerton product said. "Adversity can cause some men to break and some men to break records. I look at it to try to break records. I like the pressure and let's bring it on."

On Tuesday afternoon, Devenski got to the park early. Again, he stood at the top step looking out.

"I was thinking of everything I've been through to get to this point, it's motivating for me," he said. "To look at what I came from, a lot of things I overcame in life and baseball. Just a moment at peace to myself -- that's what I like to do before games."

Filling in for Dan Straily, who got called up to Houston on Monday, the California native came out throwing strikes with a particularly strong changeup. Inning after inning, Devenski sent the Clippers packing as he challenged the national championship record for most batters retired to start the contest. His 18 straight was the longest perfect-game bid since Omaha's Chris Dwyer and Jake Odorizzi sat down 20 in a row in 2013.

"We call him the dragon. We call him that nickname because every time he goes out there, he's fearless and he believes in himself," second baseman Tony Kemp said. "And when you have a pitcher like that, that has a beast in him like that, all you have to do is just play easy defense."

In the sixth, Audy Ciriaco laced a 0-1 offering to right field to end the bid. Devenski shook it off and then retired the next six batters -- three by strikeout -- to wrap up his outing.

The Grizzlies didn't even need that dominant a start, since they were building their own historical night at the plate. Fresno's 13 hits were the most in a national championship since Reno collected 13 in 2012. No. 2 hitter Alex Presley continued his hot postseason with three hits and an RBI. Kemp -- the Astros' No. 11 prospect -- stole a base and scored a run while Tyler White (No. 30) reached base three times, once with an RBI double.

"Alex Presley's been a good catalyst for us. Tyler White is probably one of the best hitters I've been around in a long time," DeFrancesco said. "From the time they got to the ballpark, they were focused. A loose group of guys, having fun. You see Tony Kemp gets us going early, the veteran guy.

"Up and down the lineup, it's pretty hard [to get us out]. We played good fundamental baseball, everything we did today was as perfect as you can teach an organization how to play the game."

Clippers starter Ryan Merritt (2-1) allowed five runs -- three earned -- on seven hits in two frames. Major League veteran Shaun Marcum struck out two while registering the final three outs for Columbus in what is likely to be his final professional game.

After the awards were handed out and the champagne was popped. Devenski made his way back to the dugout one last time. He stood on the top step once more and leaned against the railing without his champagne-soaked jersey on. 

"One life, one love," reads the tattoo on his chest.

With a drenched undershirt wrapped around his head like a bandana and the smell of champagne wafting around him, Devenski thought about what had just unfolded.

"It feels good. In my mind, I don't want the season to end, but it was good to finish like that," he said with a smile. "It's pretty fun right now, ya know? National champs."

Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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