PENSACOLA, Fla. - The cockroach never gets caught. Kazoo never wins the race around the bases. And Pensacola never wins the Southern League South Division… Until now.
The Blue Wahoos celebrated its first postseason appearance since the franchise began in 2012 on Sunday night at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium by jumping up and down and spraying champagne and beer all over each other and their coaches.
Pensacola did its part by eliminating the Mobile BayBears, 15-2, Sunday in front of 4,949 fans. The team then came out of the locker room and watched the ninth inning between the Mississippi Braves and Jacksonville Suns on the field on the ballpark's giant video board in center field. The Suns defeated the Braves, 7-3, to eliminate Mississippi on the next to last day of the 2015 season.
The Blue Wahoos, who are 38-31 and the South Division second half champs, ended the longest drought of missing the playoffs by a Southern League Major League affiliate. The Cincinnati Reds last Double-A team to make the playoffs was Chattanooga in 2006.
The playoff appearance is extra special to Pensacola utility player Ray Chang, who hit .375 in May and .329 in June to help propel the Blue Wahoos in the second half. In Sunday's game, Chang was 3-4 with a run scored and two RBIs and hit a check swing blooper to centerfield to score Pensacola third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean to put the Blue Wahoos ahead, 6-2, after five innings.
"It's amazing," said a drenched Chang, who joined the team in 2013. "I've never gotten the chance before. It's unbelievable. It's everything they said it would be."
Pensacola manager Pat Kelly ran out of the dugout into the center of his players, who were chanting "PK" and lavished him with beer. They did that to all their coaches and athletic trainer, celebrating each time with just as much energy.
Kelly said this playoff appearance is one of his most cherished in his more than three decades of managerial experience. He could hardly contain his excitement about the Blue Wahoos being one of the few teams in Southern League history to go from last place in the first half to first place in the second half.
Last year, last place Chattanooga went 26-44 and then 35-33 in the North Division to make the playoffs. This year, Pensacola was 25-43 in the first half.
"I think so when you consider how far we've come," Kelly said. "We basically had the same guys. We didn't have a big turnover at the half. We just seemed to find a way."
Pensacola starter Cody Reed was celebrating a division victory for the third time. He played on first half winners in the Kansas City Royals organization with both High-A Wilmington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
On Sunday, Reed settled down after giving up two unearned runs to Mobile in the first inning. Reed, who was part of Cincinnati's trade with the Kansas City Royals for ace Johnny Cueto, retired the final 13 batters he faced and 14 of 15, including five strikeouts. In six innings of work, Reed allowed three hits, gave up two unearned runs, walked two and struck out nine. He improved to 6-2 with a 2.17 ERA this year.
"I looked at Pensacola's record and was like, 'Man, we got to win some games,'" said Reed, who pitched in front of his family and his girlfriend's family Sunday. "This is the third time I'm celebrating. That's awesome!"
One of the biggest reasons for the Blue Wahoos turn around in the second half was outfielder Jesse Winker, the Cincinnati Reds top prospect.
Pensacola right fielder Jesse Winker went 3-4 with two walks and two runs scored to lift his average to .282 and now has 400 career minor league hits.
Winker ranks fourth in the Southern League with a .316 average since the All-Star break. He has got on base in 57 of 63 games in the second half and leads the league with a .426 on-base percentage. He also leads the Blue Wahoos in almost every major statistical category, including home runs (13), runs-batted in (55) and batting average (.282).
Winker said every player on the Blue Wahoos wanted to extend the team's season into the playoffs. Winker played on the High-A Bakersfield Blaze team last season that won the first half.
"We want to get in, that's for sure," Winker said. "It's been a tale of two halves. I know that's a cliché statement. But that's why everyone gets to come back after the break. Seventy games is a lot of games."
Pensacola plays the Biloxi Shuckers on Thursday and Friday at MGM Park. Biloxi then moves to Pensacola for Saturday and, if needed, will play Sunday and Monday at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium.
The Shuckers, which won the first half despite playing its first 54 games on the road.
The winner of the South Division then plays either the Twins Double-A affiliate Chattanooga Lookouts or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays affiliate the Montgomery Biscuits.
In Sunday's game, the Blue Wahoos scored a season-high eight runs on six hits in the eighth inning, including a grand slam by catcher Yovan Gonzalez. It also set a season season-high with 15 runs.
In addition, Pensacola surpassed 300,000 fans for the fourth straight season. It now has a total attendance of 300,861 with one game left to play on Labor Day.
Kelly could hardly contain his excitement about the Blue Wahoos knocking out Mobile.
"It's terrific for me since we knocked Mobile out," Kelly said. "The second half has been so much fun. I kept thinking this was going to come together."
The game didn't start well for Pensacola. Mobile jumped in front, 2-0, in the first inning when BayBears right fielder Gabriel Guerrero smashed a single up the middle to score center fielder Evan Marzilli and shortstop Jack Reinheimer.
But then, it was all Pensacola, which scored the next 15 runs.
Mobile starter Braden Shipley, the Arizona Diamondbacks No. 2 prospect, seemed to get rattled when Cincinnati Reds and National League steals leader Billy Hamilton led off the bottom of the first inning with a line drive single to center field. Shipley made four pick off attempts on Hamilton.
Hamilton, who is in Pensacola to recover from injuring his right shoulder, went 2-4, walked twice, scored three times and stole a base - his 52nd career steal in Double-A. He last played for Pensacola in 2012 when he set the minor league stolen base record with 155.
In that first inning, Pensacola left fielder Phillip Ervin then lined a two-run, game-tying double to left field that skipped by Mobile's Socrates Brito. Blue Wahoos third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean then laced a line drive down the right field line to score Ervin and put Pensacola ahead, 3-2. Pensacola would never trail in the game again.
"This is good for (Hamilton)," Kelly said. "He's had a tough year in Cincinnati. It's probably a relief for him to come and actually have some meaningful games. He got on base seven times in two days and got a chance to show what he can do."
Kelly added that Earvin's two-run double was the turning point in the game.
"To come back and score three right away was huge," Kelly said. "If we don't score there, it might be a different story after that."
The Pensacola Blue Wahoos play the final game of its five-game series at 2:05 p.m. Monday against the Arizona Diamondbacks Double-A affiliate the Mobile BayBears. RHP Barrett Astin (4-5, 5.73) is scheduled to take the mound for the Wahoos and is scheduled to be opposed by the BayBears RHP Gabriel Arias (5-2, 3.05).
During the Mobile series, the Blue Wahoos are collecting donations for The Beacon, a Shelter for Women and Children. Items needed include diapers, toiletry items and feminine hygiene products. These items can be dropped off at all gates.
Celebrate Alice in Wonderland's 150th Anniversary at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium. The team will be wearing special Cheshire Cat jerseys that will be auctioned off during the game. Winners will go on the field following the game to get the jerseys off the players' backs.
Cheer Omega is the top fundraiser for Give Back Monday presented by the Pensacola News Journal and will receive $1,000 from the Blue Wahoos prior to the game. The 50/50 raffle will also benefit Cheer Omega.
The games are broadcast live on the Blue Wahoos flagship station NewsRadio1620 (WNRP-AM). Listen for free at bluewahoos.com and by using the TuneIn Radio app on your mobile, desktop or home devices. Stream Wahoos games on MiLB.TV, a subscription-based service provided by Minor League Baseball.
BIG FISH Pensacola right fielder Jesse Winker went 3-4 with two walks and earned his 400th career minor league hit in the eighth inning…Left fielder Phillip Ervin went 2-5 with a double and three RBIs…Catcher Yovan Gonzalez hit a grand slam in the eighth inning and has five home runs on the year…Third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean was 2-4 with a triple and four RBIs and raised his average to .244 on the season.
The Blue Wahoos are closing out the regular season against the Mobile BayBears. Don't miss your chance to experience family-fun entertainment with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos! You can follow the team at BlueWahoos.com, facebook.com/PensacolaBlueWahoos and twitter.com/BlueWahoosBBall.