Hayes' late homer lifts Omaha to Triple-A title
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As the final out of the Triple-A Championship Game landed in right fielder Brett Eibner's glove Tuesday night, Triple-A Omaha stormed out of the third-base dugout at BB&T Ballpark. The Storm Chasers had defeated Pawtucket, 4-2, to win their second straight title.
Near the pitcher's mound, the Omaha mob absorbed the battery of closer Tim Collins and catcher Brett Hayes. It kept moving toward Eibner, a jumping, jubilant mass of national champions.
The celebration came after a long night of baseball for the Storm Chasers. They quickly fell behind, as Rusney Castillo, the Red Sox's newly signed center fielder, homered off Christian Binford on the first pitch of the game. Then, after they had taken a 2-1 lead, they had to endure a rain delay that lasted one hour and 46 minutes. When the game finally resumed, Travis Shaw homered for Pawtucket in the sixth to tie the game.
But the Storm Chasers wouldn't be denied. In the seventh, Hayes hit a two-out, two-run home run to put them back in the lead. It proved to be the decisive hit and earned him MVP honors.
Hayes, who began the year as the Royals' backup catcher before getting sent to Omaha in August, finished the night 2-for-4 with a double and two runs. Manager Brian Poldberg said Hayes has been critical to the Storm Chasers' success since he joined the team.
"[He] came down here and didn't feel sorry for himself," Poldberg said. "He was one of the key guys that did a great job with the pitching staff, and he got some big hits for us."
Hayes said he felt good at the plate Tuesday.
"I just tried to take that same approach I've had since I got back here," he said. "Really my approach is up the middle, and I was able to get the head of the bat out and take a good swing and was fortunate enough to go out."
Pawtucket had mounted several dramatic comebacks this season, but was unable to do so again after Hayes' homer. Right-hander Andrew Triggs and Collins combined for three scoreless innings to finish off the victory.
Though Pawtucket lost, manager Kevin Boles said he congratulated his players when he addressed them after the game.
"It's a great season for these guys -- couldn't be prouder of them," he said. "They were consistent with what they brought to the ballpark every day, and they definitely made our jobs easier as staff members."
For Omaha, Tuesday's victory just added to a burgeoning trophy case. In the last four years, the Storm Chasers have won the Pacific Coast League three times and now can claim back-to-back championships.
Omaha CEO Gary Green credited the Royals for his team's recent successes.
"This doesn't happen by accident," he said. "The Royals obviously have the best Minor League system in all of baseball."
While Hayes was named the game's MVP, the latest gems in the Royals' system were on display Tuesday night. Binford, the club's representative in this year's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, started the game and held Pawtucket to one run in three innings. Right-hander Kyle Zimmer, the fifth overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, picked up the victory. He struck out four batters and allowed one hit -- a home run -- in two innings of relief. Third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert, the Royals' No. 15 prospect, went 1-for-3 with a home run and two RBIs.
The playoff success was especially meaningful for Zimmer. He spent almost the whole year in Arizona rehabbing from injuries. After being away from a competitive environment all season, he was happy to join his friends in Omaha for the playoffs.
"It was a long time down there [in Arizona]," Zimmer said. "For what looked like it was going to be sort of a wasted year, to be able to come out of it and experience this whole playoff run and national championship is amazing."
Hayes said the success the Storm Chasers have had, even as they mixed young prospects with veterans, is a result of the winning foundation the Royals have established in their farm system.
"You learn how to win here," Hayes said. "They've won a lot of championships in lower levels and they play the game right. It's just a good organization to play for."