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Canadians win first title in team history

Vancouver tops Tri-City for Northwest League championship
September 11, 2011
Newspapers still matter, at least in the clubhouse of the new Northwest League champions.

"We have heard all the cliches -- snuck in, backed in, whatever," Vancouver Canadians interim manager Rich Miller said. "And we went to Tri-City and the first day we were there, there was an article that mentioned about, 'Why even play this series,' because on paper they had a better defensive team, a better hitting team, a better pitching team. So we put that up on the bulletin board. Sometimes that stuff certainly doesn't hurt."

With some extra motivation, the Canadians topped the favored Dust Devils, 9-2, on Sunday in the decisive third game of the Championship Series to win the first title in the club's 12-year history.

Thanks to a 15-23 second half, the Canadians (39-37) finished two games above .500 during the regular season and squeezed into the postseason as the West Division runner-up. They hadn't reached the Finals since 2005.

Vancouver won the series opener, 6-3, but lost Game 2 on Saturday, 5-3.

Tri-City went 44-32 in the regular season and, led by Manager of the Year Freddie Ocasio, earned the first- and second-half East Division crowns.

"We feel we earned everything we have gotten," said Miller, a Blue Jays' roving instructor who replaced incumbent skipper John Schneider on Aug. 10 so Schneider could tend to family matters. "We beat a very, very good team over there; we feel we beat the best.

"I have been preaching since I had to fill in here that this may be their only chance to ever get a professional ring; they don't come every year. Every kid on this club shared a hand in it."

None bigger than the right hand of starter Jesse Hernandez (1-0), who limited Tri-City to a run on three hits and recorded a career-high nine strikeouts over six innings. Was he motivated by the press clipping?

"It was more like, 'Let's shut 'em up,'" he said. "We felt very confident, knowing we had two games at home, in our odds of winning because we [have] worked them at home."

Hernandez, a 23-year-old non-drafted free agent, also pitched well in the second game of the postseason on Tuesday. He limited Eugene to a run on four hits over four innings.

The right-hander was even better on Sunday. He retired the first nine batters he faced before allowing all three hits, including Jared Simon's RBI double, in a four-batter span of the fourth inning.

Hernandez set down seven of the final eight Dust Devils he faced, working around Samuel Mende's fifth-inning walk.

"I tried to work quick, work down -- they missed," said Hernandez, whose fastball typically ranges between 85-88 mph.

As a result, he bested his career high by one strikeout. On Aug. 18, 2010, Hernandez fanned eight over five innings for short-season Auburn.

The Canadians scored three runs in the fourth against starter Tyler Gagnon (1-1), then added five in the seventh off relievers Craig Benningson and Kenneth Roberts.

Four players recorded multi-hit games, while six collected an RBI, including leadoff man Jonathon Berti, who homered off Benningson in the seventh, and Balbino Fuenmayor.

Andrew Pentis is a contributor to