OGDEN, Utah — Cody Hawn may have just played his last game in a Helena Brewers uniform.
Helena’s designated hitter Thursday made a strong argument for a promotion, hammering out two home runs—one a grand slam—and batting in eight runs to lift the Brewers to their first Pioneer League Championship in 14 years.
Helena beat the Ogden Raptors 14-3 at Lindquist Field to capture the franchise’s first title since 1996. That one also came against Ogden, when both teams were Milwaukee affiliates.
“Unbelievable,” first-year Helena manager Joe Ayrault said when asked to put his feelings into words. “I couldn’t ask for a better staff here in Helena.”
The Brewers did what they had to do to make sure they took care of business in two games. Not wanting to lose and be forced to play a Game 3, Helena cleared out the hotel and loaded the bus before coming out to the ballpark. The team wanted to head back to Helena on Thursday night, and they wanted to head back with rings.
“This was above and beyond what I expected it to be,” Hawn said of his first pro season. “I knew there was something special about this group at camp, our chemistry was just amazing from day one.”
Ogden had gotten the best of Helena in the regular season, winning six of seven. This one was never within reach for the Raptors, as Hawn hit a two-run, opposite field shot off Ogden starter Red Patterson in the first inning to stake the visitors to an early lead.
Little did the Raptors know, the player affectionately known in the Brewers’ clubhouse as ‘The Cheetah’ was just getting started.
“It's tough,” Ogden manager Damon Berryhill said. “But you've got to give Helena credit. They pitched well against us and neutralized our bats, and we made some mistakes with Hawn and he did what he was supposed to do.”
After Helena tacked on two more scores in the top of the fourth courtesy of Robbie Garvey’s two-run single, Ogden reliver Jake McCarter walked Shea Vucinich to load the bases. That set up the league-leader in RBIs perfectly, as the lefty Hawn sent a carbon copy of his first homer sailing out of the park to put Helena up 8-0.
“When I hit it I knew it was gone,” Hawn said.
“As Cody was rounding third he said ‘I love championship games,’ ” Ayrault said. “That just fired me up. He loves big games, the grin never came off his face. He couldn’t have had a better night for us.”
The Brewers would extend their lead to 14-0 in a six-run fifth frame, when Hawn, Rafael Neda and Carlos George each struck RBI singles.
Ogden’s only life came from Nick Akins, the league leader in home runs during the regular season. He hit a three-run shot in the fifth frame, the only real damage done to Helena starter Matt Miller, to put the Raptors on the board.
“I'm not going to say it felt bad to hit it,” Akins said. “But we didn't win the game and that's the whole point of playing.”
Miller (2-0) earned the win, his second of the postseason. The right-hander worked five innings, giving up just six hits and three earned runs while walking two and fanning four. Eric Marzec, Jimmy Nelson and Brian Garman pitched two-hit, shutout ball the rest of the way.
“Coming out and winning the first game of the playoffs was actually probably the biggest,” said Miller, who was also the winning pitcher in Game one of the Pioneer League North Championship series against Great Falls. “Neda did a great job blocking behind the plate, and our offense did a great job coming out and giving me run support.”
After beating the Raptors in Game one via 17 strikeouts by Brewers pitchers, Helena got this one done with its hitters. The Brewers finished with 15 hits in the contest and every player in the lineup reached base. George and Hawn each recorded three hits.
It was an extra special evening for five Brewers—Kenny Allison, Nick Shaw, Charly Bashara, Tony Roberts and Jose Sanchez—after they won their second championship of the 2010 season. The Arizona League Brewers won rings for being the best at the low-rookie level before coming to the Capital City. Allison was the only recently promoted player to see action in this finale, going 2 for 5 with a double.
And a fine finale it was.
“It was fun to come in as underdogs and out as champions,” Miller said.