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Aeros end Eastern League Finals jinx

Barnes pitches Akron past Connecticut for championship
September 19, 2009
Scott Barnes gave his former organization a good look at what it traded away two months ago and helped the Akron Aeros end their recent run of futility in the Eastern League Finals.

The 22-year-old left-hander struck out seven over five innings and league MVP Carlos Santana homered and drove in three runs Saturday as the Aeros claimed their second championship in five years with a 10-6 victory over the Connecticut Defenders.

Barnes (1-0), traded to the Indians organization in the deadline deal that sent power-hitting first baseman Ryan Garko to San Francisco, went 2-2 with a 5.68 ERA in six regular-season starts for Akron before making his playoff debut in Game 4 before a crowd of 3,275 at Canal Park.

"I tried to treat it like a it wasn't a really big game, which it was," Barnes admitted. "I didn't really feel any pressure because I'm really confident with the guys behind me."

The 6-foot-4, 185-pound southpaw, touted as one of the Giants' top Minor League hurlers, allowed two unearned runs on two hits and three walks before turning the game over to the Aeros' bullpen.

"I thought he really stepped up for us tonight," said Akron manager Mike Sarbaugh. "He really pounded the strike zone and established his off-speed pitches. He gave us five solid innings and was a big reason why we won this thing."

Carlton Smith followed with two one-hit frames before surrendering two unearned runs on three hits while retiring the first two batters in the eighth.

Zach Putnam finished off the frame before Josh Judy gave up two runs on three hits in the ninth, striking out Eddy Martinez-Esteve for the final out to help Akron shake off three straight Finals losses and grab its first crown since 2005.

Sarbaugh, in his second year as Aeros manager, secured his third title in the Indians system. The 42-year-old also guided short-season Mahoning Valley (2004) and Class A Advanced Kinston (2006) to championships.

"You know, [the championships are] all special, especially with the team that's been here all year long," Sarbaugh said. "It's a pleasure to manage them. Whenever we brought a new guy in, they bought into it.

"I think it's all about the players. The Indians have done a great job with their scouting department and the players they bring in. I've been fortunate."

Santana, who went 3-for-12 with a solo shot in Akron's three-game sweep of Reading in the semifinals, collected three hits, including a homer, and three RBIs in the Championship Series before breaking out in the clincher.

The 23-year-old catcher walked in the opening frame, singled and scored on Beau Mills' double in the third, walked again during the Aeros' five-run fourth and belted a two-run blast in the fifth to stretch the lead to 9-2.

"He's just a big presence in our lineup," Sarbaugh said of Santana, who hit .290 with 23 homers and 97 RBIs in 130 games during the regular season.

"His strike-zone discipline is off the charts. That two-run homer really helped push the lead for us. He's a really special player."

John Drennen also homered and drove in two runs, while Mills and Jose Constanza added two RBIs apiece as Akron pounded out 15 hits to overcome three errors.

Mike McBryde ripped a two-run double in the ninth and Bobby Felmy and Brad Boyer each had two hits and an RBI for the Defenders, who knocked off New Britain in four games in the semifinals before falling short of their first EL title.

Connecticut starter Ari Ronick (1-1) gave up five runs -- four earned -- on six hits and three walks with two strikeouts in three-plus innings.

John Torenli is a contributor to