After narrowly falling short on Tuesday night, the Soddies finished off the 2023 Texas League season in style at Hodgetown on Wednesday night, as they rode an excellent bullpen performance and a big hit by Camden Duzenack to their second ever championship.
As expected, Conor Grammes got the start. In 40 appearances (6 starts) between Hillsboro and Amarillo, he had exceeded two innings just twice. He went 3 innings in a July 29th start against Midland, and he went 3.1 innings against Corpus Christi the following week. The highest reasonable expectations for Grammes were likely similar to those outings: 3 innings, around 50 pitches, and don't allow multiple runs.
However, Grammes far exceeded expectations. He allowed one hit, a single to lead off the second inning, and that runner was erased on a double play. After having thrown just 32 pitches through the first three innings, we went out for the fourth inning and struck out the side. In his 4 innings, he struck out 6, allowed the one hit, and didn't walk anyone. It was far better than could have been reasonably expected.
Meanwhile, the offense, well aware that run support might be needed in a bullpen game, was more than up to the task. After a walk and a double in the first inning didn't wind up leading to any runs, they cashed in the following inning. In fact, it was a span of four pitches that completely changed the game.
First, with Kristian Robinson at the plate and an 0-1 count, Ben Onyshko missed arm side and hit Robinson.
With the next pitch, Juan Centeno blooped a single over the infield that landed short of the center fielder, and put runners on first and second.
The very next pitch clipped Jancarlos Cintron to load the bases.
And Camden Duzenack drove the fourth pitch over the right field fence for a grand slam and a 4-0 lead.
The Soddies weren't done, either. Tim Tawa walked, Caleb Roberts singled, Tawa scored on a sacrifice fly by A.J. Vukovich and Roberts scored on a single by Seth Beer. After two innings, the Sod Poodles held a relatively comfortable 6-0 lead.
But, it was Hodgetown, so even a 6-0 lead isn't that comfortable. However, the bullpen was more than up to the task. After being given the lead, Grammes didn't allow another baserunner. The Travelers did managed to get a runner to second base in the fifth inning off of Emailin Montilla, who allowed a single and a walk. But they wouldn't have another runner in scoring position until the eighth inning, when a single, a wild pitch, and a double gave Arkansas their only run of the ballgame. By then, the lead had been increased to 9-0, as Vukovich scored on a single by Deyvison De Los Santos and Kristian Robinson hit a two run home run.
Christian Montes de Oca was assigned the task of getting the final three outs. After a pair of fly balls, he struck out Robert Perez Jr. on three pitches to put a bow on the championship season.
My MVP for this postseason series is Kristian Robinson. He went 3-for-9 with a double and a home run, he scored 3 runs and he drove in 3 runs. He was also hit by pitches twice. This wraps up an incredible year for Robinson that deserves some notice. He had not appeared in a competitive game since before the pandemic, and had never appeared above full-season Low-A ball, in which he posted a .729 OPS in 102 plate appearances. This year, things started out well in Visalia but he struggled during a brief placement in Hillsboro. He then went to the complex league, was designated for assignment, cleared waivers, and stayed at the complex through their postseason. Then it was back to Visalia through the end of their season, followed by a placement in Amarillo. He had just 5 games with the Soddies before the playoffs, during which he hit 2 home runs but also struck out 7 times in 17 plate appearances while walking just once. But he turned it on when it counted, as across 29 plate appearances in the playoffs he struck out 7 times and walked 3 times. He also demonstrated speed and defensive ability. Expect the former top-100 prospect to find his way back onto the 40-man roster and to vault up the organization's prospect rankings.
All minor league seasons are now over, and I will take a hiatus from writing until the Diamondbacks' season is likewise over. I do have some minor league focused writing planned for the offseason, though.