The Oklahoma City Dodgers roster has undergone a lot of change throughout the 2023 season. Key players have been promoted to the Majors, and some have returned.
But all of that big-game experience paid off as the Triple-A club swept the best-of-3 Pacific Coast League Championship Series against the Round Rock Express with a 5-2 win on Wednesday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. In doing so, the Dodgers secured their first championship since moving to Oklahoma City in 2015.
"I'm sure it's hard for some guys, once you go up and you pitch in front of 50,000 people, to come back down to Triple-A and have that same type of adrenaline," Oklahoma City manager Travis Barbary said. "But last night, Kyle Hurt, and tonight, Gavin Stone, these guys wanted it. It's just fun to watch."
Outfielder Jonny DeLuca, who had two stints in Los Angeles this season, got the scoring started with a 433-foot two-run homer in the second inning. And after the Express clawed back a run in the fourth, it was no surprise who extended the Dodgers' lead.
Busch has been Oklahoma City's big hitter all season, despite missing time with three brief appearances in the bigs. The second-ranked Dodgers prospect (MLB No. 44) hit .323/.431/.618 and finished fourth in the PCL with 27 homers, including three in his last four regular-season games. That hot bat carried over to the playoffs, where he launched a crucial moonshot in the fifth.
"[Busch] has been awesome. He's so fun to watch play every day," Barbary said. "He comes and prepares as good as anyone I've been around. He's just a steadying influence on this team. His presence in the lineup means so much to everyone on this club. To see him come through there and put us up with a three-run homer, 5-1 at the time, was just huge. So happy for him. He's had an amazing year, not only here but making his debut this year in L.A. It's been a fun year being able to watch him play baseball every day."
Oklahoma City felt good with that lead, as Stone was dominating in his first start with the club in nearly three weeks after another stint in the Majors. The fifth-ranked Dodgers prospect (MLB No. 79) escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the first unscathed and skated the rest of the way, notching four of his 10 K's in a row in the first four frames.
Dominant pitching has been a theme for the Dodgers in the playoffs -- Oklahoma City held Round Rock to five total runs across both games -- and the season as a whole. They led the circuit with a 4.58 ERA and 1,394 strikeouts in the regular season.
Oklahoma City will have one more chance to show how its Major League experience pays off as the team heads to Las Vegas for the Triple-A National Championship Game on Saturday against the winner of the International League. But for now, the team is reveling in an accomplishment not achieved by an Oklahoma City team since 1996.
"They're extremely excited," Barbary said. "The guys are popping champagne and celebrating. It's a pretty big deal to win this league. After 150 games, winning these first two games of the playoffs are a special moment for all of these guys. Super excited. I'm glad to be a part of it."