A year of rehab, pain and struggle behind him, Brad Suttle finally had a chance to reflect when he found himself in the middle of a celebration on the infield of Steinbrenner Field on Monday.
"It was awesome," Suttle said. "It's something I won't forget, it's just awesome."
Suttle's three-run homer capped a solid postseason and helped the Class A Advanced Tampa Yankees to their second straight Florida State League championship on Monday with a 9-0 win over the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
"We came into the clubhouse and shared some sparkling cider, the champagne was flying," Yankees manager Torre Tyson said. "There was a bunch of Gatorade and pies in the faces, just like the Yankees would do it."
The parent Yankees and hometown Rays may have been locked in a scoreless battle at Tropicana Field en route to Tampa's 1-0, 11-inning victory, across town at Steinbrenner Field, the T-Yanks had it wrapped up early.
Jose Pirela scored on a fielder's choice in the first, Jose Gil added an RBI triple in the fourth and Suttle smacked his three-run shot in the five-run fifth.
"I'm battling and he sawed me off a fastball, it got in on me a little," he said of facing Stone Crabs starter Joseph Cruz. "And they went with a fastball again. I saw it early, got the bat out there and hit it on the barrel, and it got out.
"I was really surprised it went out, the wind was blowing hard in," he said. "That pumped me up a lot. Man, that was just really exciting. Now you're up 5-0 and you're looking pretty good."
Tyson credited Suttle for his work throughout the playoff run.
"We made some mistakes we didn't want to, but a three-run homer helps cover up mistakes," the skipper said. "That's what Suttle did, he put us on his back this whole playoff series. Really both series, he carried us through offensively. When we lost our player of the year in Melky Mesa, he stepped up and carried us."
The Yankees' fourth-round pick out of Texas in 2007, Suttle led the team with a .304 average, three homers and nine RBIs in six playoff games. He deflected Tyson's praise, though.
"I don't think I carried the team, we had guys step up every night. Whether it was Ray Kruml last night or our pitching, I can't say enough about the pitching," Suttle said. "It's hard to lose when they give up three runs a night. We lost our top two starters in Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, but we had guys coming in and they all stepped up really big. Our pitching was the biggest thing."
Craig Heyer was dominant in his second postseason start, limiting the Stone Crabs to five hits over six frames to pick up the win. He struck out three and did not walk a batter.
"We had another inning from him if we needed it. He stepped up for us tonight, he showed no nerves whatsoever," Tyson said. "We saw that on the mound from both sides. Throughout the whole series, they showed no nerves. He was ready every inning. He brought an energy that we needed tonight."
Phil Bartleski, who signed with the Yankees in 2007, pitched 2 2/3 scoreless frames before Jonathan Ortiz came on to get the final out. The closer, who had 21 saves for Tampa this season, struck out Matt Hall to seal the team's second straight crown.
Tyson said they were the only two pitchers in the bullpen left from the Opening Day roster.
"It was never planned until the seventh. Everything fell into our laps with the big lead," said Tyson. "To hand the ball off to your saves leader was pretty cool. It was a great opportunity for him to be on the mound. I think he's been practicing the [game-ending] knee slide for a week or so."
The Yankees won the first two games of the best-of-5 series in Charlotte before the Rays affiliate took Game 3 with a run in the ninth to push the series to a fourth contest.
"It was a tough one to swallow, to think that could be the turning point of the season," Tyson said. "But they stepped up.
"Every season is long and you gotta grind through them. But that's part of teaching these guys, how to make it through to prepare themselves to be Yankees," he added. "It's a great opportunity to share the experience with the guys and develop it through to the end."
For Suttle, who underwent a pair of surgeries on his shoulder in 2009, it was the end of a long road back. After losing last season, he came back in 2010 and struggled early on.
"Man, I'm just overjoyed and satisfied and it's great," he said. "It feels so good to get that confidence back and start hitting the ball well. It just feels great. I hadn't won a championship since high school. It's great to be on top."
Every Yankee recorded at least one hit, and seven of the nine starters drove in a run in the clincher. Tampa beat Charlotte in five games to claim the '09 crown.
The Crabs managed eighth hits. Cruz was charged with seven runs on nine hits and three walks over 4 1/3 innings.
Charlotte won both the first- and second-half division titles en route to 80 overall wins this year, the most in the league. But the Stone Crabs dropped the first two games of the Finals at home, despite being 40-27 on their own turf this year.
Tyson and Tampa held the Dunedin Blue Jays scoreless in sweeping a best-of-3 semifinal series before becoming the first team in the league to claim consecutive crowns since Lakeland did it in 1975-'76.
"It's been a great year. [Tyson] is a great manager," Suttle said. "He knows baseball as much as anyone I've been around in my life, honestly. From hitting, pitching, fielding, he knows it better than anyone. So it's been great for me."