Merloni carries Cats to Showdown win

Newly appointed captain homers, drives in four in 7-1 romp

(Wendy Eagan)

By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com | September 18, 2007 7:30 PM ET

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Lou Merloni sat in the visiting clubhouse at AT&T Bricktown Ballpark on Tuesday afternoon and questioned the logic of his being named Sacramento's team captain. The veteran infielder, who has been the River Cats leader both in word and deed this season, saw no need for such an honor, sincerely believing he was simply performing in a manner that came naturally.

He seemed almost embarrassed by the attention and was even more self-conscious about the big "C" that had been stitched on the left chest of his uniform following Sacramento's victory in the Pacific Coast League Championship Series. Merloni, however, certainly lived up to his newfound rank later in the evening, collecting two hits, including a home run, and driving in four runs to earn Most Valuable Player honors as the River Cats defeated International League champion Richmond, 7-1, before 11,124 fans in The Bricktown Showdown.

Merloni's three-run blast gave Sacramento a third-inning lead it would not relinquish. Brant Colamarino followed with a two-run homer, allowing the Pacific Coast League to earn its second Bricktown title in as many games. Merloni added an RBI single in the sixth and was later presented the trophy amid cheers of "Louuuuu!" from his teammates.

"I'll take it," Merloni said. "It was an honor to wear the 'C.' We had an unbelievable year and we deserve this. It was a great year for everyone and I'm proud to represent this team and the city of Sacramento."

Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco asked Merloni, who played parts of nine seasons in the Major Leagues, if he would wear the "C" after the Cats swept New Orleans in the PCL Finals. Merloni has been the River Cats' leader in the clubhouse and on the field throughout the season, so the honor shouldn't have come as a surprise, even if the timing did.

"He asked me as a friend and said he would be honored if I wore it," Merloni said. "Regardless of how I feel, and I don't think it's right, it's still an honor. I'm proud of this team, so I'll go out and wear it. It may not look too cool, but I'll go out and represent. This team has been something special throughout the year; that's something I'm proud of."

DeFrancesco certainly looked like a genius after Merloni's performance.

"I told you it was a good move," DeFrancesco said. "He's stepped up all season long. And today, in prime time, he hit a three-run homer and had four RBIs. He kept this whole thing together all year.

"He's meant a lot to me as a manager. I've been managing in Triple-A for a few years now and no player has ever taken the role the way he has. There's a lot of bitterness sometimes, especially with veterans, at this level. But Lou has been a true pro all season and he's really led this team."

Merloni carried the team one more time, beginning in the third inning. Richmond starter Blaine Boyer extricated himself from a second-inning jam -- two on and one out -- but had no such fortune in the third. Danny Putnam drew a leadoff walk and advanced on Nick Blasi's single. That brought up Merloni, who hit a fly ball to left that initially didn't appear to have enough carry. But with a bit of breeze blowing out to left, the ball cleared the fence and Merloni had his fourth home run in 32 postseason at-bats. He hit only three homers in 393 regular-season at-bats.

"It was a curveball I just kind of waited on," Merloni said. "He came at me with an off-speed pitch and he left it up and it carried out."

Jorge Piedra followed with a single and, after a fielder's choice, Colamarino connected for his own homer to nearly the exact spot on which Merloni's landed. He finished with three hits and three RBIs. Boyer had allowed just one homer over 73 1/3 regular-season innings.

Shane Komine started for the PCL champs but left after only 1 2/3 innings, retiring five of the six hitters he faced. Shoulder stiffness was cited as the reason for his early departure, but DeFrancesco said the situation was not serious and Komine's departure was strictly precautionary.

Kazuhito Tadano replaced Komine and went 4 1/3 innings to earn the victory. He allowed one run on three hits and struck out four.

Kevin T. Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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