Chihuahuas win first PCL championship

Rondon drives in go-ahead run with bizarre bunt single in 11th inning

After going 73-70 during the regular season, El Paso won six of eight playoff games. (El Paso Chihuahuas)

By Michael Leboff / MiLB.com | September 18, 2016 1:44 AM

The team that led the Pacific Coast League with 156 home runs won the championship on a popped up bunt.

Padres No. 12 prospect Jose Rondon drove in the go-ahead run with a bizarre bunt single in the 11th inning Saturday as El Paso outlasted Oklahoma City, 4-3, to win the first title in its three-year history. 

"I haven't ever seen anything like that," Chihuahuas manager Rod Barajas said. "This game's crazy. If you do things right, things always take care of you in the long run. It must have been one of those days when the baseball gods looked down on us and said, 'These guys deserve it."

Patrick Kivlehan set the table in the 11th with a leadoff single and moved to third when first baseman Cody Bellinger fielded Diego Goris' bunt and made a wild throw. Rondon popped up his bunt attempt and Dodgers reliever Lisalverto Bonilla (0-1) laid out in an attempt to catch it. But the ball popped out of his glove and ricocheted over the head of catcher Jack Murphy as Kivlehan raced home.

"It was a crazy way to win the game, but we had guys on base and put ourselves in a situation to lay down the bunt. And then the craziness happened," Barajas said.

Padres No. 30 prospect Phil Maton, who started the season with Class A Fort Wayne, worked around a one-out double in the bottom of the 11th to record his third postseason save. He secured the win for Derek Eitel (2-0), who retired both batters he faced.

"It feels incredible," Barajas said. "We had a plan this year, when we broke camp out of Spring Training, that we want to develop guys who know how to win baseball games. These guys battled and competed non-stop throughout the season. So to reach this goal was a lot of fun. There was a lot of celebrating in the clubhouse."

Oklahoma City jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on an RBI double by Dodgers No. 3 prospect Alex Verdugo in the first.

Kivlehan tied it in the fourth with a two-out RBI double to right field and the Chihuahuas took the lead in the sixth. After Padres No. 20 prospect Carlos Asuaje drew a one-out walk, Austin Hedges doubled to set the stage for No. 3 prospect Hunter Renfroe, who delivered with a two-run single.

The Dodgers got one back in the bottom half when Will Venable slugged a solo homer off starter Seth Simmons, who allowed two runs on eight hits and struck out eight over six innings in his El Paso debut.

A quality start in a title-clinching game was a neat end of a whirlwind season for Simmons. The 28-year-old right-hander was released by the Diamondbacks in May and signed with the Padres, who decided to stretch him out as a starter with Double-A San Antonio.

"We didn't know what to expect out of him. We had never seen him pitch before," Barajas said. "He was a little shaky early on but got out of those messes and gave us six strong innings. It was a well-needed, big-time start."

Oklahoma City tied it back up in the seventh. After back-to-back one-out singles by Bellinger -- the Dodgers' top prospect -- and No. 24 prospect Kyle Farmer, Verdugo came through with an RBI groundout.

The Chihuahuas head to Memphis, where they'll face the International League champion Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders on Tuesday in the Triple-A National Championship Game.

Michael Leboff is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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