Seventeen years later, the Fresno Grizzlies can celebrate another divisional championship.
The Grizzlies defeated the Iowa Cubs 7-3 during the nightcap of a doubleheader Tuesday to clinch the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Northern division with 13 regular-season games remaining.
Tony Kemp hit a leadoff homer and finished 2 for 4, and Jon Singleton went 2 for 3 with two runs and an RBI double in the seven-inning game as the Grizzlies (79-51) became the first Triple-A team to clinch its division.
“It’s incredibly satisfying,” said Grizzlies starting pitcher Mark Appel, who picked up the win after scattering four hits and four walks for three runs in six innings. “I’ve enjoyed my time in Fresno. I know other guys have been happy with how this season has been.
“We’re just happy that we get to play some extra baseball.”
In their first season as the Houston Astros’ Triple-A club, the Grizzlies secured their first divisional crown and playoff spot since their inaugural season in 1998, then as the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A affiliate.
In between divisional titles, the Grizzlies endured 12 losing seasons.
It’s a great feeling for us, for the front office people, and we’re very happy to do it for the city of Fresno.
Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco
“It’s a great feeling for us, for the front office people, and we’re very happy to do it for the city of Fresno,” Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco said. “That’s what we play for – to try to get into the playoffs. We knew it was just a matter of time.”
Working with one of the baseball’s richest farm systems, the Grizzlies owned a 14-game lead going into Tuesday and needed to win just one game from the doubleheader or have the River Cats lose later in the night.
The Grizzlies dropped the doubleheader opener 3-2 after failing to advance runners who were on first and second with no outs during the final inning.
But they’d deliver multiple times in the nightcap as the Grizzlies scored a run each inning except the third and seventh and had the leadoff batter reach base six times.
79-51 The Fresno Grizzlies are tied with the Oklahoma City Dodgers for best record in Triple-A
Kemp’s homer off Cubs starting pitcher Felipe Paulino was his third of the season.
Singleton followed with an RBI double in the second, then crossed home later in the inning on Andrew Aplin’s single.
The Grizzlies failed to score in the third but added two more runs in the fourth, via a Tyler Heineman double that brought in Singleton and Kemp’s single that scored Aplin.
The Grizzlies scored their final two runs on errant throws as the Cubs finished with three errors.
After the final out, one Grizzlies player tried to douse DeFrancesco near the dugout with a bucket of ice – except the Grizzlies manager sprinted away to avoid getting fully drenched.
Back in the clubhouse, the Grizzlies held a champagne celebration.
DeFrancesco, 52, captured his eighth PCL divisional title in 12 seasons managing in Triple-A during his 21-year career.
The Grizzlies have five more games on the road, including the final four against the Omaha Storm Chasers, before closing out the regular season with an eight-game homestand starting Monday, Aug. 31. The regular-season finale is Monday, Sept. 7, at Chukchansi Park.
“We wanted to win it on our own terms, by winning,” DeFrancesco said. “All the ups and downs there is in Triple-A, this feels great.”
Triple-A postseason dates
- Divisional round (best of five): Sept. 9-13; Grizzlies would host Sept. 9-10
- Pacific Coast League championship (best of five): Sept. 15-16, 18-20; Grizzlies would host Sept. 18-20 as needed
- Triple-A championship: Sept. 22 in El Paso, Texas; one game vs. International League champ on neutral field