It wasn’t pretty, and it seemed like the final out would never come.
But the Quakes prevailed in a 17-9 slugfest over the 66ers at the Epicenter on Tuesday night, clinching the California League South Division first-half title.
The Quakes are in their first year as a Dodgers affiliate. They also won the second half title last year as an Angels affiliate. By winning the first half, the Quakes have a first-round bye and will host the first two games of the best-of-5 South Division Finals Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 10-11.
“These guys really wanted to win it tonight,” said Quakes manager Juan Bustabad, amidst the postgame celebration. “From this group, 15 of 25 guys were with Great Lakes (a playoff team) last year. They know what this is like.”
The game was over once the Quakes put eight runs on the board in the sixth inning to take a 13-3 lead. But the Sixers didn’t go down without a fight. In the ninth, with one out, four consecutive batters reached base to make it 17-7. A flyout was the second out, then Steven Irvine hit a possible game-ending grounder that ricocheted off shortstop Rafael Ynoa’s glove for a two-run error. A walk followed, prompting manager Juan Bustabad to remove reliever Robert Romero and bring in Luis Vasquez.
It wasn’t a closing situation, because if it was, the Quakes probably would have used right-hander Steve Smith. But Bustabad wanted to bring in Vasquez in a situation with something on the line. Vasquez is ranked as the Dodgers’ No. 30 prospect, is on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster, but has spent much of the first half on the disabled list and walked 11 in his first 6 2/3 innings. Vasquez struck out Rian Kiniry to send the team into celebration.
It didn’t start out as particularly raucous. They were excited to throw the Quakes’ traditional victory balls into the stands for fans and hurried into the clubhouse. With the clubhouse well-protected, the Quakes players were armed with goggles to protect their eyes from the champagne. But eventually, the alcohol-soaked players spilled back onto the field to celebrate, including running through the sprinklers and they were still celebrating on the field in an otherwise empty stadium an hour after the final out.