Oakland A's MLN: River Cats Clinch - Again

The Sacramento River Cats took their first step towards a third straight PCL championship by clinching the Pacific Conference's Southern Division with a 5-0 win over Fresno. The River Cats' division championship is their third straight and their fifth in six seasons. Starter Juan Cruz was masterful again and outfielder Shawn Garrett went deep in the victory. Find out the details of their win, the playoff schedule and more in this edition of Oakland A's Minor League Notebook…

The names and faces might change in Sacramento, but one thing has always remained consistent in the affiliate's six year history – the River Cats domination over Southern Division opponents. Sacramento has taken home the Southern Division crown in five of the six seasons they have existed and they look poised to do it again next season with the players from the division-winning AA-Midland Rockhounds likely on their way to Raley Field in 2006.

The 2005 season wasn't an easy one for this group of River Cats. Sacramento had to deal with injuries and promotions all season. Two of the team's best offensive players – Dan Johnson and Matt Watson – spent significant time in Oakland, with Johnson permanently joining the A's in late May. Starters Seth Etherton and Ryan Glynn also spent time with the big league squad, as did relievers Ron Flores and Jairo Garcia and infielder Jermaine Clark. In addition, injuries decimated the River Cats, especially in the pitching department. Dan Meyer was expected to be the staff ace, but he injured his shoulder in spring training and missed most of May and June after struggling in April. Veteran AAA starter John Rheinecker was lost for the season after a strong first six weeks with a finger tendon injury in his pitching hand and Etherton missed time with various ailments.

Still, the River Cats persevered and used a red-hot June and July to pull away from their division foes. On Sunday night, with eight games still left to play on the regular season schedule, the River Cats clinched the title with a stellar win. New staff ace and one-time Oakland A's reliever Juan Cruz was extremely effective once again. After throwing four no-hit innings in his last start, Cruz followed that effort up with a seven-inning, shut-out performance. The rail-thin right-hander was efficient, allowing only four hits and a walk and striking out three. Cruz has been a totally different pitcher since being sent down to Sacramento to become a starter. The Dominican native is now 5-1 with a 2.40 ERA as part of the River Cats' rotation.

Reliever Chris Mabeus followed Cruz and he had one of his most impressive outings of the season. Mabeus struck out four in two perfect innings of work to give the River Cats the win. After an outstanding 2004 season, Mabeus struggled at the beginning of the 2005 campaign, but he has pitched much better of late. His Sunday outing lowered his ERA to 4.12.

Watson and Shawn Garrett each had three hits to pace the River Cats' offense. Garrett crushed his 16th homerun of the season in the sixth inning. He drove in three runs in the game to raise his season total to 77. Watson hit his 23rd and 24th doubles of the season to raise his batting average to .310. Jack Cust also had two hits and drove in a run, his 73rd run batted in this season.

Individual game playoff tickets are now on-sale at Raley Field or on-line at Tickets.com for all possible playoff series. The River Cats will begin the playoffs on the road at the Northern Division champion's home on September 7th and 8th and then will play the remaining three games (if necessary) in the best-of-five series at Raley Field on September 9-11. Currently, the Tacoma Rainiers lead the Northern Division. If Sacramento wins the first playoff series, they will advance to the Championship Series and will again be on the road for the first two games and at home for the final three games, if necessary. The Championship Series is also a best-of-five. The Championship Series is scheduled to begin on September 13 and would run through September 18 if all five games are needed.

Other Notes:

-- In a wild affair, the Stockton Ports allowed ten runs in the bottom of the ninth inning but held on to beat Bakersfield by a score of 14-12. The Ports entered the ninth with a healthy 14-2 lead, but needed their closer Jared Burton to retire the final batter to nail down the win. Brad Sullivan was the main culprit in the inning, as he allowed six runs without retiring a batter in the ninth before leaving the game. He had pitched 1.1 innings before the ninth and had allowed only one run. Brad Knox got the win by allowing only one run in 6.2 innings of work and the Ports hit five homeruns. Catcher Jed Morris hit two and Kurt Suzuki, Matt Allegra and Danny Putnam each added one. Putnam's two RBI put him at 92 on the season. Third baseman John McCurdy also added four hits (three doubles) and two RBIs. Stockton holds a slim lead in the North Division.

-- Kane County is also clinging to playoff hopes and their chances were helped by a 9-3 win over Quad Cities on Sunday. They sit two games back in the division with eight to play. Myron Leslie, Raul Padron and Jose Pineda all homered for the Cougars, who pounded out 10 hits. Ryan Ruiz hit a three-run triple to break the game open in the sixth inning. Tony Evans picked up the win despite allowing three solo homeruns in the first three innings of the game. It was his first win since July.

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