Yanks rally, win New York-Penn title

Three-run eighth pushes Staten Island past Mahoning Valley

Ben Watkins got the win in the clincher, allowing one hit over five innings. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

By Danny Wild / MLB.com | September 16, 2009 7:04 PM

Soaked in sparkling apple cider and screaming as loud as he could, Ben Watkins was just one of many Staten Island Yankees savoring yet another championship Wednesday night.

"That's an experience not too many people get to enjoy," said Watkins, who earned the win in relief. "I'm really happy. My throat hurts right now from yelling so loud."

Watkins allowed one hit over five dominant innings and Neil Medchill knocked in the go-ahead run in the eighth as the Yankees rallied late to beat the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, 5-2, and claim their fifth New York-Penn League title.

"This has been my most rewarding year in baseball," said first-year Yankees manager Josh Paul. "They dumped a bunch of ice water on me, which was really cold, but it was a good time."

Medchill's infield hit in the eighth plated fellow All-Star Jimmy Paredes to spark a three-run inning against Scrappers reliever Austin Adams. Zoilo Almonte followed with a two-run double, sealing the win in the decisive third game of the Championship Series.

It's the Baby Bombers' third crown in five years but first since 2006.

"It was awesome," said Watkins. "My defense played so well behind me, they let me just throw strikes. They played flawless."

The 22-year-old right-hander held the Scrappers struck out five before 14th-round pick Graham Stoneburner worked a perfect ninth for the save, inducing a game-ending grounder to third to set off the celebration.

"It couldn't have been better to top it off like this," said Medchill, who led the league with 14 homers during the season, despite playing with a torn wrist ligament for the final month. "It's been a crazy season. It started off terrible, we couldn't even throw the ball across the field, but we cleaned that up."

Starter Jose Ramirez was charged with two runs on three hits over three innings in his Staten Island debut. He split the season between the Gulf Coast League Yankees and Class A Advanced Tampa before joining Staten Island for the playoffs.

"It was awesome, I can't say enough," Medchill said. "We were kind of nervous at the beginning of the game, we'd never seen Ramirez before. Watkins came in and picked us up as a team, he threw five shutout innings. He kept us in the game the whole time."

Paul, who played for Triple-A Round Rock last season following a long career in the Majors, had plenty of praise for his reliever.

"He's the MVP of this game for me," Paul said. "Watkins has been a mainstay for us, he really did tonight what their guy did last night to us -- he shut down their offense for the greater part of the game."

Catcher Kyle Higashioka went 3-for-4 with an RBI and Almonte drove in three runs for Staten Island, which stormed into first place in late August, thanks to a club-record 13-game winning streak.

"We let them play, we didn't want to make them play a certain way," Paul said. "That's why I say 100 percent of the credit goes to them, we let them play their game. That's how they got that 13-game winning streak.

"This team is really great, they didn't look too far ahead and they played every day as though it were the most important game of the year. And it paid off."

It was the 17th time a Yankees affiliate has won the New York-Penn League championship.

Mahoning Valley grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second when Rafael Vera hit an RBI double and Game 2 hero Chun-Hsiu Chen followed with a triple to left. Almonte singled home Medchill in the fifth and the Yankees tied it two innings later on Higashioka's RBI double off Vidal Nuno.

Clayton Cook, Cleveland's ninth-round pick in last year's Draft, held the Yankees to one run on four hits over five innings. Adams was charged with three runs on one hit in 1 1/3 frames.

"I've experienced some very nice moments as a player, but managing these guys has been most rewarding," Paul said.

"His ability to manage is unbelievable," Medchill said of Paul. "He's super laid back and he never panics. He knows what he's doing out there."

Medchill, who also ranked third in the league with 41 RBIs, is scheduled to undergo surgery Friday.

"It's been a crazy year for me, personally. I've been on tears and big slumps," he said. "It's been one of those things. The team was really close this year, everyone's pulling, we just kept fighting, and I'm glad it turned out the way it did."

Danny Wild is an editor 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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