Unlikely or not, 66ers won Cal League title

Although admittedly I didn’t get to cover many games in the last half of the season, I have been considering how surprising a run it was for the 66ers to win their sixth California League title, sweeping San Jose in the best-of-five finals on Saturday night.

It was the franchise’s first and the first for an Angels affiliate since Lake Elsinore in 1996.

There are some similarities with this team and the last Sixers team to win a title, in 2006 as a Mariners affiliate.

That 2006 team, managed by Gary Thurman, won the first half in bizarre fashion. Poor scheduling left the Sixers a game short in the first half an a half game behind High Desert. So the Sixers’ last game of the 1st half (and High Desert’s first of the 2nd half) was a Sixer victory that tied them for the first half title. So the next game, also against High Desert was another Sixer win, and the first half title, clinching a playoff spot.

Then the team was gutted. Players were promoted and what was left was a rag-tag group primarily of non-prospects.

There were three position players who have since played in the big leagues: Matt Tuiasosopo, Mike Wilson and Luis Valbuena. Only Valbuena played with the Sixers in the second half of the season.

Among pitchers, future big leaguer Justin Thomas pitched in the second half and the playoffs, but Mark Lowe, Ryan Rowland-Smith, and Eric O’Flaherty were gone by the second half. Other big leaguers Brandon Morrow and Jorge Camillio pitched in the second half, but weren’t with the team in the playoffs.

That part varies greatly with the 2013 66ers. The 66ers roster, although riddled with injuries, especially to the pitching staff, was largely intact. Its everyday lineup stayed together for the most part.

Here’s the similarity: that 2006 team went 10-16 to end the season, including getting swept at home by Lake Elsinore in a four-game series to end the season. They finished the regular season 72-68.┬áThe 2013 Sixers didn’t win the first half, but with the rest of the teams (outside of first-half champ Lancaster) in the South Division so bad in the first half, they were all but assured of a playoff berth. This year’s team went 9-20 down the stretch to finish the regular season 69-71.

Like the 2006 season, the 2013 Sixers seemed like that team had some magic earlier in the season, but not so much in the season’s final month.

In addition, both teams beat playoff opponents against whom they struggled in the regular season. The 2006 team defeated Lake Elsinore in the South Finals 3-1, after going 10-14 against the Storm in the regular season, including the aforementioned sweep in the final weekend of the regular season. They beat Visalia in Game 5 of the League Finals after going 4-5 against them in the regular season.

The 2013 Sixers defeated the Quakes in 3 (in a best-of-3) first. They dominated the Quakes in the regular season, going 16-8. But then they beat Lancaster in five games (after going 8-14 in the regular season), then San Jose in three games (after going 3-11 in the regular season).

There’s no doubt what the most memorable moment for this playoff run was the 15-inning win over Lancaster in Game 5 of the South Finals. What was the most memorable moment for the 2006 Sixers in the playoffs? Yes, it could be Johan Limonta’s go-ahead RBI double in the eighth inning of Game 5 vs. Visalia of a 2-1 win. But for me, it was the eighth inning of Game 4 of the South Finals. After the Sixers won the first two games, Lake Elsinore had all the momentum, winning Game 3, and leading 5-0 in the eighth inning of Game 4. That was before the Sixers scored six in the eighth and three more in the ninth of a 9-5 win.