Hayes powers Omaha to Triple-A title

Veteran catcher breaks seventh-inning tie with long two-run homer

Omaha became the third team to win back-to-back Triple-A National Championship games. (Louriann Mardo-Zayat)

By Bob Sutton / Special to MiLB.com | September 17, 2014 1:57 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Omaha Storm Chasers provided a sendoff to the Minor League season with another dose of excitement. That's their specialty.

This time it came in the form of catcher Brett Hayes' two-run go-ahead homer in the seventh inning that sent the Storm Chasers to their second straight victory in the Triple-A National Championship Game, a 4-2 triumph over the Pawtucket Red Sox BB&T Ballpark.

"We're not afraid to play dramatic games," Hayes said.

Five pitchers combined on an eight-hitter as Omaha overcame Pawtucket's occasional power display -- and a lengthy rain delay.

"The heart they showed every day," Storm Chasers manager Brian Poldberg said. "We're going to enjoy this for a long time."

Hayes was named MVP. He starred for the Storm Chasers last year but was promoted to Kansas City and missed the postseason.

This year, it was the other way around as the 30-year-old returned to Omaha after a stint in the Majors. He drove in eight runs in his last seven playoff games, helping spearhead the drive to the Pacific Coast League championship before excelling Tuesday night before a national TV audience.

"I try to do my part," Hayes said. "We just enjoy playing the game and we played hard."

He also doubled and scored in the fourth inning, when the Storm Chasers took their first lead.

Pawtucket, which opened the scoring on Rusney Castillo's first-pitch home run in the bottom of the first inning, tied when Travis Shaw led off the sixth with a blast off Royals No. 2 prospect Kyle Zimmer.

The Storm Chasers didn't flinch, even after Whit Merrifield led off the seventh with a single but was thrown out trying to stretch it by left fielder Bryce Brentz. Pedro Ciriaco followed with a single -- his third hit of the night -- and scored the go-ahead run when Hayes sent reliever Miguel Celestino's first pitch off the scoreboard in left-center field.

Earlier, the teams endured a nearly two-hour rain delay, with Omaha holding a 2-1 lead in the middle of the fifth.

"They don't panic," Poldberg said. "The rain delay, we just go with it. It made us change our pitching a little bit because I was going to go with Buddy (Baumann) another inning."

Instead, Poldberg turned to Zimmer, who pitched a perfect fifth. Despite giving up Shaw's homer, MLB.com's No. 48 overall prospect ended up the winning pitcher.

PawSox manager Kevin Boles had no complaints.

"I thought we played a good baseball game," he said. "But they answered."

Castillo drilled Omaha starter Christian Binford's first pitch for a home run to left field, adding to the intrigue since he was signed and moved quickly through the Red Sox system.

Omaha's Cheslor Cuthbert -- Kansas City's 15th-ranked prospect -- matched that with a solo shot in the second, then lifted a sacrifice fly in the fourth to score Hayes.

The postseason run was thrilling for the PawSox, who won their second International League championship in three years.

"It was a lot of fun," Brentz said of the playoffs. "Different guys made plays on both sides of the ball to keep us alive. We've still got a ring, and they can't take that away."

Still, there was a sense of finality in the Pawtucket clubhouse.

"I'm going to miss these guys," said shortstop Deven Marrero, the Red Sox's No. 10 prospect. "That's what makes it so tough. It's the last time I'm going to play with this group of guys."

Bob Sutton 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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