Kipnis' cycle leads Clippers to Cup

Called up to Triple-A for the postseason, DH delivers in clincher


By Danny Wild / | September 17, 2010 7:39 PM

An unlikely source helped the Columbus Clippers end a 14-year championship drought on Friday night.

Recently promoted Jason Kipnis hit for the cycle to highlight a 13-2 rout as Triple-A Columbus beat the Durham Bulls to claim the Governors' Cup in Game 4 of the best-of-5 Finals.

Kipnis and his new teammates piled on top of closer Vinnie Pestano, who fell to his knees in front of the mound after striking out Omar Luna to seal the win. The Clippers totaled 20 hits in dethroning Durham in its own park.

"Those never get old," Clippers manager Mike Sarbaugh said of the on-field celebration. "You work all year long. To be able to celebrate at the end, to be the winner, that's what you play for. You go through 144 games and the playoffs, so to be the last one to win, I think its very rewarding."

Columbus will face the Pacific Coast League champion -- Memphis or Tacoma -- for the Triple-A National Championship on Tuesday in Oklahoma City. The game will be televised nationally on Versus.

Kipnis, who made his Triple-A debut Tuesday in Game 1 of the Finals, went 4-for-5 and capped the cycle with an RBI triple in the sixth inning. The Indians' 2009 second-round pick out of Arizona State homered to right leading off the second, singled in the third and doubled and scored in the fifth.

The triple sealed the cycle, although Sarbaugh said he was the last to know.

"I didn't even realize it until he got to third. He mentioned it to me and it caught me off-guard," said Sarbaugh, who coaches third base. "I didn't realize it, but it's quite an accomplishment. He picked a great time to do it.

"He was really pumped. It was a bang-bang play, he got in safe. It's a very big accomplishment for him. Jason came here for the championship round and really swung the bat well, was a big part of helping us win this. He stepped up big for us."

For the Clippers, it's the eighth league championship in franchise history and the first since 1996, when they were a Yankees affiliate.

"At one point, the Clippers had the best record in the International League," said league president Randy Mobley. "Guys came and went, but at playoff time, they all answered the bell."

The Clippers raised the Cup and sprayed each other with champagne at home plate following a brief ceremony, with Sarbaugh taking a few bottles down the back of his jersey from elated players.

"I thought it was a really good season to develop players and be able to win here at the end," he said. "It's a testament to our player development system."

Columbus captured the Cup on solid pitching throughout the playoffs, posting a 2.33 ERA. But the lineup really came together in the Finals, outscoring the Bulls, 37-10, in four games.

"I thought the key to the first round and Finals was our starting pitching," Sarbaugh said. "And we feel good if we get deep into the games with guys like Vinnie, Jess Todd, Josh Judy -- to get to those guys late in the game, that was a real key to our success. Zach McAllister, Yohan Pino, Paulo Espino, that was the key to it. We swung the bats well this series, but the pitching was the key."

The Clippers last reached the Governors' Cup Finals in 1997, when they fell to Rochester. They finished the regular season 75-65, taking the Wild Card out of the North Division.

The Bulls, the iconic Rays affiliate, pulled out a dramatic walk-off win Thursday to keep their season alive but fell behind early in Game 4 and never got close. Mobley congratulated Durham, which led the league with 88 wins, and cited former ace Jeremy Hellickson, league MVP Dan Johnson and manager of the year Charlie Montoyo.

"I just told them after the game [Thursday] that I was proud the way we battled and came back," Sarbaugh said. "I was happy with our effort, what we brought to the game last night. I knew we'd come back ready."

Sure enough, the Clippers came out swinging, scoring four runs over the first two innings. Cord Phelps had an RBI grounder in the first before Kipnis launched his first postseason homer to start the second. Josh Rodriguez and Jose Constanza followed with RBIs for a 4-0 edge.

Rodriguez struck again with a two-run single in the fifth en route to a 3-for-5 night. Phelps drove in two more and Jared Goedert scored three runs and drove in one.

Jerad Head went 4-for-4 with four runs scored and went 8-for-16 with two homers, nine RBIs and seven runs scored in the series. He finished the postseason with a league-leading 13 hits.

"I'm really happy for Jerad Head," Sarbaugh said. "He was a guy who was up and down four times this year, so to be able to be here for the playoffs and be a big part of this championship, he really stepped in and swung the bat well."

Espino, who spent most of the season with Double-A Akron, held the Bulls to a pair of runs over six innings for his second playoff win. Aaron Laffey and Zach Putnam each threw an inning before Pestano finished it off.

Bulls starter Paul Phillips (1-1) lasted only 1 1/3 frames and was tagged for four runs on five hits. J.J. Furmaniak and Chris Richard drove in the runs for Durham.

The Clippers continued their tradition of growing beards once the postseason began. Sarbaugh said it was cool with him.

"The last few years, they'd do it for playoff time and I like it, it builds chemistry if the guys want to do it. I was all for it," he said.

And Kipnis, who arrived only days ago?

"He has a little bit of scruff," Sarbaugh laughed.

Danny Wild is an editor for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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