When a league title is on the line, whether it follows a 144-game season or the 32-game Arizona Fall League campaign, the stars come out to shine. They were on full display Saturday, although an injury and a protest nearly stole the spotlight.
Billy Hamilton, Mike Zunino, Rymer Liriano -- three of MLB.com's top 100 prospects -- and a slew of relief pitchers helped crown Peoria as the Javelinas edged the Salt River Rafters, 4-3, to win their fourth AFL championship and second in four years.
Hamilton, the Reds' top prospect, tripled on the second pitch of the game from Salt River's Ryan Perry (Nationals). Zunino, the Mariners' No. 4 prospect and third overall pick in this year's Draft, plated the speedster two batters later with a single.
The 21-year-old catcher collected another RBI in the second with another single that gave the Javs a 3-0 lead. Zunino finished 3-for-5 out of the third spot in the lineup.
"It felt great," Zunino told MLB.com. "It's been a long year, but this is a great group of guys and I was happy I was able to contribute."
The win capped an astounding rookie season for the University of Florida product, who batted .360 with 13 homers and 43 RBIs in 44 regular-season games between short-season Everett and Double-A Jackson. He hit .288 with two more longballs and 15 RBIs in 19 Fall League games.
Liriano singled in the third and scored the decisive run on fellow San Diego Minor Leaguer Nate Freiman's base hit. The Padres' top prospect went 3-for-3 after batting .319 during the AFL regular season.
The Rafters were able to keep it close early by collecting three runs on six hits against Peoria starter Tim Crabbe (Reds), who pitched 2 2/3 innings. Three Rockies prospects -- Kent Matthes, Cory Dickerson and Lars Davis -- recordied the RBIs.
However, six Javelinas were able to hold down the fort over the final 6 1/3 frames. Salt River got leadoff triples from Nationals prospects Brian Goodwin and Anthony Rendon in the seventh and eighth, respectively, but right-handers Matt Stites (Padres) and Curtis Partch (Reds) stemmed the tide.
Stites benefited from a controversial call. Goodwin tagged and appeared to score on a fly ball by Chris Owings (D-backs). The Javs appealed to third base, where the 2011 first-round pick was called out for leaving early. Salt River manager Matt Williams filed a protested that was denied after the game.
"It was worth a shot," Williams said. "In the end, we had a guy on third with no one out twice and couldn't [get him in]. That's the story."
Hamilton, making the transition from shortstop to center field in the AFL, left after slamming into the fence while chasing down Rendon's triple in the eighth. He reportedly suffered lower back spasms.
"It's sore, but I'm OK," Hamilton said. "There aren't walls when you play shortstop, but I better get used to that."