By Steve Svetovich
The Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders captured the Governors’ Cup and its first ever Triple-A national title in convincing fashion last month.
The RailRiders, behind strong performances by four pitchers and a three-run first inning homer by veteran first baseman Chris Parmelee, beat the El Paso Chihuahuas, the Pacific Coast League Triple-A farm club of the San Diego Padres, 3-1, Tuesday, September 20, at AutoZone Park in Memphis, Tennessee to earn the Gilden Triple-A National Title.
It was the RailRiders first ever Triple-A National Crown.
Mark Payton and Clint Frazier both singled in the first inning before Parmelee delivered with his three-run shot off Walter Lockett to give the RailRiders a 3-0 first inning lead. Parmelee hit two homers in one game during a brief call up with the New York Yankees this season before an injury curtailed his time with the parent club.
Jordan Montgomery pitched five innings, giving up one run, to earn the win for the RailRiders.
Montgomery was lifted by manager Al Pedrique in the sixth inning after giving up three straight singles resulting in a run for El Paso.
However, Johnny Barbato came in for Montgomery and got the first three of 12 consecutive outs by Scranton Wilkes-Barre relievers.
Crafty veteran lefty Phil Coke, a member of the 2009 world champion New York Yankees, pitched a perfect seventh and eighth inning for the RailRiders. Coke has since been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Giovanny Gallegos pitched a perfect ninth to gain the save and clinch the Triple-A National Title for the RailRiders.
The RailRiders won the Governors’ Cup by taking three of four games in a best of five series against the Gwinnett Braves.
The clincher came Friday, September 17, at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville, Georgia, a 3-0 win for the franchise’s second Governors’ Cup championship.
It was the team’s second straight 3-0 win, fourth shutout in seven post-season games and 28th overall this season.
Jake Cave, the MVP of the series, hit a single, stole a key base and Cito Culver drew a two-out walk that led to RBI singles by Mark Payton and Clint Frazier to give the RailRiders a 2-0 lead in the top of the fifth.
Culver walked with two outs in the top of the seventh. Payton followed up with an RBI triple to give Scranton Wilkes-Barre a 3-0 lead.
Don Camarena, in his first Triple-A start, earned the win with five and one-third shutout innings. He struck out four, gave up five hits and one walk while inducing three double plays in the first four innings.
Three RailRider relievers then took over retiring the final 11 batters in succession.
Johnny Barbato got out of a sixth inning jam when Gwinnett had runners on second and third with one out. A strikeout and groundout kept Gwinnett from scoring.
Tyler Webb pitched a perfect seventh and eighth striking out two. Gallegos pitched a perfect ninth, striking out two, to earn the save and clinch the Governors’ Cup for the RailRiders.
Payton had three hits and two RBIs in the win. Frazier had two hits and an RBI.
Scranton Wilkes-Barre won its first Governors’ Cup in 2008.
The RailRiders swept the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs in three games to advance to the Governors’ Cup series. Coke pitched a fabulous game in the 7-0 game two win. He hurled a season-high seven shutout innings, striking out seven and retiring the last 13 batters he faced. He gave up no walks.
Crestwood graduate Matt Wotherspoon pitched a perfect eighth before Barbato finished off the win with a scoreless ninth for the RailRiders.
A total of 63 players, the most notable being catcher Gary Sanchez, suited up for the RailRiders this season. Sanchez, who hit 10 homers for Scranton Wilkes-Barre, became the quickest MLB player in the history of baseball to hit 19 homers since being called up to the parent Yankees in early August. He is a strong American League Rookie of the Year candidate.
Only three players – Parmelee, Donovan Solano and Peter Kozma – were in the RailRiders’ starting lineup on both opening day and for the Governors’ Cup title clincher. Solano has since been called up to the parent club after an injury to Yankees starting second baseman Starling Castro.
Other key players such as Aaron Judge and Chad Green, both since injured and out for the season, Rob Refsnyder, Luis Severino, Luis Cessa and Tyler Austin were called up to the parent club and not available for the playoffs.
Another key player throughout the season, center fielder Ben Gamel, the International League MVP, was traded to the Seattle Mariners August 31.
Former New York Yankees star Nick Swisher, a fan favorite and clubhouse leader, was on the RailRiders the first half of the season before leaving the team to be with his family after his wife had a baby.
Even the Yankees retiring first baseman Mark Teixeira, one of only four switch hitters in baseball history with over 400 homers, played a couple games with the RailRiders this season during a rehab stint.
It will be a season to remember for this resilient group of players. And all 63 of them and the entire coaching staff had a hand in it.
Congratulations to the 2016 national champion Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.