The waiting is over. After 23 years, the Nashville Sounds are champions again.
Nelson Cruz launched a three-run homer off Cha Seung Baek with two outs in the 13th inning that sent the Sounds to a 5-2 victory over the Tacoma Rainiers on Friday and a sweep of the Pacific Coast League Championship Series.
"I needed something to drive. I'd been looking all game," said Cruz, who also won the PCL title last season with Sacramento. "I looked for a fastball and I got it, a little bit away. I knew it was going."
The championship drought ended in Nashville's first season as an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Nashville was a Southern League affiliate of the New York Yankees the last time the Sounds won a title in 1982. Among the players on that team were Buck Showalter, Otis Nixon, Rex Hudler, Wayne Garland and Brian Dayett. The manager was Johnny Oates.
"I'm happy for Nashville," Sounds manager Frank Kremblas said. "It's our first year with them down there. I'm sure they're very happy that someone finally got them a title. It's a good start."
The decisive inning started when Corey D. Hart reached on shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera's two-out throwing error. Tony Zuniga worked the count full before drawing a walk from reliever Andrew Lorraine. Baek came in to face Cruz, who drove a 1-0 pitch well over the left-center field fence.
"We were the only people cheering at that point," Kremblas said. "The guys just battled, just like they've done all year. They kept battling and battling and got things done when they needed to."
The go-ahead blast came an inning after Sounds reliever Brett Evert escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam. Wiki Gonzalez drew a leadoff walk and pinch-runner Michael Garciaparra raced to third on Hunter Brown's one-out single. Evert intentionally walked T.J. Bohn Jr. to load the bases before getting Rene Rivera on a foul popout. Cabrera ended the inning on a comebacker.
"That gave us a big lift mentally," Kremblas said.
Evert (1-0) struck out five and allowed two hits over three innings for the win. Nashville's bullpen yielded two hits and three walks over the final 6 1/3 innings. Evert fanned Bucky Jacobsen to set off the celebration.
"After the third out, I was standing there in right field and saying, 'Thank God,'" Cruz said. "Then I ran to the mound and celebrated. I knew I was going to get the game if we got somebody on base."
Nashville took the lead when Steve Scarborough led off the third with a homer off Tacoma starter Damian Moss. The Sounds made it 2-0 in the sixth as Cruz took second on a two-out error by Brown at second base and scored on a single by Mike Rivera.
Scarborough and Rivera each had two of Nashville's eight hits.
"I have a set lineup for when a left-handed pitcher starts and when a right-handed pitcher starts," explained Kremblas, who said members of the left-hander lineup refer to themselves as "The Grunts."
"The Grunts, those guys won two of the three games," the manager added. "They were also in for two of the three when we won the first series, too. They did a great job."
Nashville starter Gary Glover was nearly untouchable through six shutout innings, retiring 16 of the first 17 batters he faced. The right-hander allowed only a one-out single in the third to Rene Rivera, who also doubled in the sixth.
The Rainiers showed signs of life in the seventh, when Gonzalez and Aaron Rifkin hit consecutive one-out singles. After Brown struck out, Bohn ripped a two-run double that tied the score.
Alec Zumwalt replaced Glover and walked Rene Rivera before getting Cabrera to ground out. Cabrera was the first of seven straight batters Zumwalt set down. Mike Adams retired all three Rainiers in the 10th.
Moss gave up two runs -- one earned -- in six innings. The Rainiers bullpen was outstanding as Emiliano Fruto, Jeff Heaverlo and Sean Green combined to allow one hit and three walks in 6 1/3 frames. Lorraine (0-1) was charged with two unearned runs.