Six years ago, Rich Miller got to experience a Northwest League championship with Vancouver, but on Tuesday night, he finally finished off one that felt totally his own.
Vancouver scored twice in the fifth inning and needed nothing more, using five pitchers to complete a 2-1 win over Eugene and clinch a 3-1 victory in the best-of-5 Northwest League Finals on Tuesday at Nat Bailey Stadium. It's the Canadians' fourth championship in seven seasons.
"I told them in the meeting inside as we were celebrating, I've been around a lot of years," Miller said. "I've never seen a group of extended [spring training] players meld together with a group of newly drafted players and within weeks, you could just tell they loved each other. They cared for each other. They rooted for each other. They had each other's backs. The way they came together is the main reason why we did so well this year."
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In 2011, Miller joined the Canadians as interim manager when John Schneider took a leave of absence 52 games into the season. Miller piloted the C's to the league title -- the first in franchise history and first of three straight -- before moving to an advisory role in the Blue Jays' Minor League operations department. Back in Vancouver this summer, he worked his magic again.
"Obviously,  was a great, great feeling, but to be with this team through extended spring training and the newly drafted players and starting a season fresh with them, I was really, really at a loss for words," he said. "I was really elated to watch these kids just get so much better as the year went on."
After grabbing the series lead on Monday night, the Canadians trailed midway through Game 4 before one of their biggest bats came through. Blue Jays first-rounder and No. 4 prospect Logan Warmoth singled to right field with two outs to drive home a pair and put Vancouver ahead, 2-1, before a crowd of 5,288.
"This is one heck of a Minor League atmosphere," Miller said. "They are tremendous. But if you feel that it's getting a little exciting and you're trying to control your nerves, step off the mound, step out of the batter's box, call time out or whatever. Control your emotions because nobody can explain what it's like being in a Major League playoff situation or a Major League World Series situation. The closest environment you come to it is playing for everything on the Minor League level. And to play here in front of these 5,000-6,000 people, it's like 20,000-30,000 every night. I'm so glad they were able to play in front of that."
Canadians starter Justin Dillon struck out seven and yielded one hit over three scoreless innings. After surrendering a solo homer to the first batter he faced -- Michael Cruz went out to right in the fourth -- Zach Logue (1-0) combined with Brayden Bouchey, Orlando Pascual and William Ouellette to allow two hits the rest of the way.
"They all pitched well, but just to take one guy, Brandon Bouchey the first half of the year was not very good. He knows that,." Miller said. "He saved his best for the end of the year, and we preached all year long, at the end of the year we want to be a better player and a better team. A lot of these guys were, and he was one of them."
With two out in the ninth, Miller tapped Ouellette, who struck out Will Remillard to finish the win and touch off a championship celebration in the Minor Leagues' only Canadian city. It was Ouellette's league-leading third playoff save.
"When it happened, I was quietly elated," Miller said. "I shook the hands of a few guys in the dugout, and then just to go out and see the players and the elation, it's unbelievable."
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The win capped the Canadians' fifth Championship Series appearance in seven years and derailed Eugene's hopes of repeating. It also gave some breath to a system in transition as Toronto looks to its next chapter with an aging core of stars in the Major Leagues not headed to the playoffs this year.
"Our entire system had a pretty good year," Miller said. "I know Triple-A [Buffalo] and Double-A [New Hampshire] didn't have the years they wanted, but our Dominican Summer League team was in the playoffs. Our Gulf Coast League team got eliminated from getting into the playoffs the last week of the season. Our Bluefield team was in the playoffs. We were in the playoffs. Our Dunedin Florida State League team was co-champions. We have things coming in the future for the Blue Jays."
Cubs No. 2 prospect Jose Albertos (0-1) started for the Emeralds and gave up two runs on two hits and a career-high five walks with four strikeouts in five innings.