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Bichette, Yankees claim GCL title

New York's top pick goes deep, leads rookie affiliate in win
August 31, 2011
In the Gulf Coast League's version of October Bronx heroics, Dante Bichette Jr. is already showing his worth.

Bichette hit a game-tying homer and then had a hand in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning to lead the Yankees past the Marlins, 3-1, to claim the 2011 Gulf Coast League championship on Wednesday in Jupiter, Fla.

"It's been a great year for us from the beginning," said Yankees manager Carlos Mendoza. "We had a good group of guys and good chemistry from the beginning."

Bichette, the Yankees' top pick of the 2011 Draft, ripped his second postseason homer in the fourth, a solo drive with one out off Marlins starter Mason Hope. He finished 2-for-4, adding a double and a stolen base in the sixth.

"We had a very special team," Mendoza said. "Dante Bichette is the MVP of the team, and he came through with a big home run today to tie the game."

A pair of errors doomed the Marlins in the eighth. The Yankees' Jose Rosario led off and reached second on throwing error by shortstop Yefri Perez. Daniel Lopez struck out and Bichette then followed with a deep fly to right, allowing Rosario to tag up, but Jhiomar Veras' throw was mishandled by third baseman Kenny Jackson, letting Rosario score New York's second run.

Matt Duran hit a leadoff single and scored on Isaias Tejeda's RBI base hit in the ninth for a 3-1 Yankees edge.

Bichette, the 51st-overall pick in the 2011 Draft out of Orangewood Christian High School in Maitland, Fla., is the son of longtime Major League slugger Dante Bichette. The 18-year-old grew up with a close relationship to New York manager Joe Girardi and was elated to join the organization in June. Since then, he's led the GCL in hitting, runs and doubles.

"Bichette is great, but we've also got some good hitters," Mendoza said. "[Ravel] Santana, Rosario, Lopez, [Claudio] Custodio -- we had guys who hit over .300 the whole year. Have to thank our hitting coach, Edwar Gonzalez, who worked with the guys."

New York City native Mariel Checo struck out five over the final 2 2/3 innings, allowing just one hit to earn the win and seal up the GCL title. Right-hander Reynaldo Polanco started for the Yankees and allowed one run on two hits and four walks over three frames. Joel De La Cruz held the Marlins to one hit over 3 1/3 innings out of the bullpen.

It's the Yankees' first Gulf Coast crown since 2007 -- the Rookie-level affiliate also won consecutive titles in 2004 and 2005. Philadelphia's GCL affiliate claimed the championship last summer.

The Yankees play at the Tampa, Fla., complex that hosts both the organization's Florida State League club and Major League Spring Training. The team has long held much of its operations at the Florida site, which is named for longtime owner George Steinbrenner.

"Pretty much everyone from the front office has seen these guys, and I can't thank them enough," Mendoza said. "They put a great team together. And we did it!"

The Marlins' lone run came in the third when Luis Ortiz hit a leadoff single, stole second and scored on John Schultz's double to right off Polanco. Florida had runners on the corners with two outs later in the inning, but Polanco got Felix Munoz to bounce out to second.

Perez singled and advanced to third in the seventh, but the Marlins failed to cash in. Checo struck out the side in the eighth and then whiffed a pair in the ninth, including Veras for the final out.

Hope got the start in a must-win game for both teams but was pulled after allowing a run on four hits and a walk in 3 1/3 innings. Oregon State product James Nygren was charged with two runs -- one earned -- on three hits and a walk over three frames to suffer the loss.

The Marlins last reached the finals in 2009, when they fell in two games to the Nationals.

Danny Wild is an editor for Additional reporting by Brendon Desrochers.