Winning a championship is never easy.
Winning a championship by sweeping all three playoff series?
Even more difficult — yet that’s exactly what the Quad Cities River Bandits did by going a perfect 7-0 to win the Midwest League Championship last night.
The Bandits, a Class A farm team of the Cardinals, beat the Lansing Lugnuts, a Blue Jays affiliate, 6-3.
It was an exciting atmosphere at Modern Woodmen Park — a crowd of 2,425, the second-largest at a Midwest League playoff game this year, that was far more into the action than anytime I’ve been there this season. Which was terrific to see, since small crowds are typical at minor league playoff games. Last night’s attendance was nowhere near the 6,000+ the Bandits will draw on a fireworks night in June, but it was filled with fans who were more into the game and aware of what was going on than a mid-summer one usually is.
And there was plenty for us to cheer about. After the Lugnuts took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first — they scored first in each game of the series — the Bandits came right back in the bottom of the inning to score two on singles by Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras, an RBI ground-out from Jonathan Rodriguez and an RBI single from Cody Stanley. The Bandits added to the lead in the second when Wong had an RBI single, then took a 4-1 lead in the sixth when Geoff Klein homered.
Lansing got back into the game in the top of the seventh, as Bandits starter Trevor Rosenthal gave up two straight hits that scored one run. Reliever Drew Benes gave up another hit, with the Lugnuts scoring again on a ground-out to make it 4-3.
But the Bandits came right back in the bottom of the inning. Wong walked to start the inning, with Ronny Gil sacrificing him to second. That brought up Oscar Taveras, the Bandits’ leading hitter who had a .386 average in the regular season. So perhaps intentionally walking him made sense … except doing so to face Jonathan Rodriguez, who led the Bandits with 20 homers and 70 RBI, did not.
And J-Rod made them pay, as he hit a long fly to center for a double that scored both runners. (Although, personally, I think it should be a triple — he ended up on third base.)
Then just six outs remained until the championship. The top of the eighth went quickly, the bottom of the eighth for the Bandits even more so. (Yes, I actually encouraged Packy Elkins to make an out when he came up with two out in the bottom of the eighth. Ever the scrappy hero, he complied — hitting a liner on the first pitch directly to the second baseman.) On to the ninth …
Bandits closer Dean Kiekhefer took the mound and quickly got the first out. He walked the second batter, thanks to some not-good calls from the home plate ump, then out No. 2. The ump’s calls got even worse at that point, resulting in a second walk. (During an earlier playoff game, someone sitting near me made a great point: just like the players, the umps are at Class A too.) A single loaded the bases.
But it was just to add a bit of dramatic tension — Marcus Knecht was next up and flied out to left fielder Colin Walsh — that’s a winner! The celebrating began.
And watching a team’s joy at such a moment is always incredible. Unlike when the Cardinals won the World Series five years ago, there were no fireworks and no confetti — just the pure emotion of victory. Even the trophy presentation is a bit different. A Midwest League official was there to award it … but didn’t even hand it to manager Johnny Rodriguez, just left it there on a table. The team was more than happy to retrieve it, however!
For 11 of the Bandits — including Oscar Taveras, Cody Stanley, Drew Benes and Packy Elkins — this is their second straight championship, as they were on the Johnson City Cardinals that won the Appalachian League Championship last year. As a Cardinals fan, I love that these young guys are learning to win like this and showing the determination and drive that it takes to succeed.
This is the first championship since 1990 for the Quad Cities franchise, when they were the Quad Cities Angels, and the fifth overall. And, for me personally, this was definitely a special and fun team to watch — and a championship to remember.
Local coverage on last night’s win:
- Video from WHBF-TV
- Bandits win Midwest League championship (Quad-City Times)
- Photo slideshow from Quad-City Times
- Bandits sweep up first title since 1990 (Dispatch/Argus — Quad Cities Online)
- Bandits champs after sweeping playoffs (River Bandits website)
And, to see the final out from our seats, check out Tara Wellman’s video on the Aaron Miles’ Fastball Facebook page. (Also, if you haven’t yet, like us!)
Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email email@example.com. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.