Aaron Brooks had a breakout season in 2014, making his Major League debut and helping Omaha reach the Pacific Coast League playoffs. On Sunday afternoon, his perfect postseason culminated in a championship trophy and a dog pile on his home field.
The Royals prospect tossed a complete-game two-hitter and batterymate Brett Hayes plated two first-inning runs as the Storm Chasers beat visiting Reno, 4-0, to repeat as Pacific Coast League champions.
"It was a long-fought battle," Omaha manager Brian Poldberg said. "The guys did a great job and it's nice to sit back and be able to take a deep breath and enjoy it. This team has overcome a lot. We had callups, two starters moved up in the middle of the season and bullpen pitchers turned into starters. Whatever happened, we were able to overcome."
In a winner-take-all showdown before 3,606 at Werner Park, Poldberg had no hesitation handing the ball to his ace, who pitched what he called one of the top two playoff games he's ever seen.
Brooks (3-0) retired the final 20 batters and struck out nine, 11 days after fanning 10 over eight scoreless innings in Game 1 of the semifinals against Memphis. He also pitched seven strong frames to beat Reno in the Finals opener.
"Just blessed for the Royals to have the confidence in me to give me the ball for the first and fifth games when we have four starters," Brooks said. "They went with me, so I'm blessed and excited. This means a lot. I had the opportunity to go up to Kansas City earlier in the season, but with that not going my way and then coming back here and going through the whole season ... I can't think of any better way to cap it off."
The Storm Chasers took the lead early Sunday and never looked back.
Pedro Ciriaco beat out an infield single to shortstop Nick Ahmed with one out in the first inning and Paulo Orlando followed with a base hit to left field. Matt Fields struck out, but Hayes clubbed a two-run double to center.
Whit Merrifield made it 3-0 with a two-out RBI single in the second and Brett Eibner scored an insurance run in the eighth to give Brooks more than enough support.
"Anytime you can put up runs early, it takes a little pressure off you," Poldberg said. "This Reno team has some bats and they can score quickly. Aaron Brooks, since the end of July and the whole month of August, has been phenomenal. He's turned a corner. I could see it in his eyes tonight, he was ready. He wanted it. Considering the importance, it was a learning experience for him because you see who wants it in those situations."
The Storm Chasers defeated Memphis in four games in the semifinals to set up a Championship Series meeting with the Aces, who rebounded from a Game 1 loss to Las Vegas by taking three straight to reach the Finals.
Omaha took the opener of the series with a 6-2 victory, then totaled three runs in dropping the next two games. The Storm Chasers stayed alive Saturday with an 11-2 romp before clinching their third title in four years.
Omaha will meet International League champion Pawtucket on Tuesday in the Triple-A National Championship Game in Charlotte, North Carolina.