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Nats claim Texas crown in third year

Late-season addition Smith helps dethrone RockHounds
September 19, 2010
Will Smith didn't know too much about the Royals farm system when he was traded to Kansas City in July, but he'd heard enough good things to be excited about the rest of the season.

Less than two months later, his gut feeling about a chance to win a championship proved valid.

Smith scattered seven hits over 6 2/3 innings Saturday as the Northwest Arkansas Naturals blanked the Midland RockHounds, 2-0, to capture the first Texas League championship in their three-year history.

"When I was with the Angels in Little Rock I never pitched against Northwest Arkansas, but I knew that the team was good," Smith said. "I had heard that they had great hitting and good pitching, that they had it all. And when I was traded to the Royals I thought that I might end up on the Naturals and get a ring."

The 21-year-old left-hander, who came over from the Angels in the trade that sent infielder Alberto Callaspo to Los Angeles, walked two and struck out six for his first postseason win.

The Royals' Double-A affiliate staked Smith (1-0) to a lead in the fifth when Anthony Seratelli legged out a leadoff triple and Ryan Eigsti brought him home with a groundout.

Northwest Arkansas plated a controversial insurance run in the eighth.

Johnny Giavotella reached on a two-out single and advanced on a wild pitch by RockHounds starter Matt Wright (1-1). Eric Hosmer lined an apparent RBI single up the middle, but Giavotella was called out when umpires ruled the ball hit him between second and third base.

The RockHounds started to jog off the field, but the umpires got together, overturned the initial call and allowed the run to stand.

Midland manager Darren Bush was ejected for arguing, and the Naturals never looked back.

Henry Barrera relieved Smith in the seventh and stranded two runners in scoring position when he got Gabriel Ortiz to ground out. The 24-year-old right-hander worked a 1-2-3 eighth before Patrick Keating pitched around a leadoff double in the ninth and recorded his fourth postseason save.

"It feels amazing," Smith said. "I came to a team that I wasn't with the whole year and they treated me like I had been here the whole time."

The Georgia native made only made four regular-season starts with the Naturals before getting the call in Game 4 of the North Division Finals against Springfield.

"I tried not to think like, 'Oh, gosh, this is a championship game,'" Smith explained. "And I just tried to take it nice and simple.

"I was laying in the hotel thinking, 'It's just another game.' But when (Chris) McConnell threw (Jermaine Mitchell) out at home to end the third inning, I was like, 'OK, this is serious now.'"

Smith tried to stay loose after turning things over to his bullpen. Even when the RockHounds were down to their last out, he was trying to think about something else.

"To tell you the truth, me and John Lamb were standing by the side of the dugout, trying to stay calm and just talking casually," he said. "When D-Rob (center fielder Derrick Robinson) caught that last ball, it became a sprint to join the rest of the team and celebrate."

Naturals manager Brian Poldberg agreed.

"I finally took a breath. I don't think I breathed that whole ninth inning," he said. "These guys were outstanding, and it was great to be a part of that."

The championship put the finishing touches on a superlative year for Northwest Arkansas. It won the division title in both halves of the season with a team-record 86 wins, the most by any Double-A affiliate in Royals' history.

First baseman Clint Robinson won the Triple Crown and was named Texas League MVP after hitting .335 with 29 homers and 98 RBIs. Mike Moustakas put together 2 1/2 dominant months before he was promoted to Triple-A Omaha, and Eric Hosmer picked up the slack. The former first-round pick totaled six homers and 12 RBIs in nine playoff games.

"We're going to have some champagne, look at the trophy and enjoy it," Poldberg said. "To be down two games to one in the North Division Championship and then come back to win, it all shows you the character of this team."

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to