Going into the final day of the Arizona Fall League season, the Solar Sox control their own destiny in the East Division. Mesa defeated Glendale, 3-2, Wednesday at Hohokam Stadium, extending its winning streak to five games.
Mesa holds a half-game lead over Salt River in the division entering the season's final day. To win the division, it needs either a Salt River loss to Scottsdale or a win against Glendale. The division champion will play Surprise in the AFL Championship Game Saturday at Scottsdale.
Outfielder Steven Souza said controlling their own destiny will make Thursday's game against the Desert Dogs more enjoyable for the Solar Sox.
"It's one thing to be one game behind and hoping the other team loses," Souza said. "But when all you've got to do is go out play hardest and not worry about the other team, it's fun. I don't think anyone is feeling pressure. It's a fun thing."
Souza had some fun of his own Wednesday. He and Glendale starter Alex Meyer spent much of the 2012 season as teammates in the Nationals' system, first in Class A Hagerstown and then Class A Advanced Potomac. The two became good friends as they rode buses and worked toward the Major Leagues. But last November, the Nationals traded Meyer, their 2011 first-round pick, to the Twins for Denard Span.
Though Souza and Meyer both played in the Double-A Eastern League this year, injuries prevented them from playing against each other during the regular season. So Wednesday was the first time they faced each other.
After taking the first pitch for a ball in the second inning, Souza fouled off the next pitch and broke his bat. He had better luck on the next pitch, driving a two-run home run to left field. It was his first homer of the fall.
Souza said he and Meyer shared a smile as he rounded the bases.
"I smiled at him and he gave me a little smile back," Souza said. "I'm sure we'll talk about it tomorrow at Glendale."
Meyer didn't allow any other runs in his final start in the AFL. He allowed three hits and struck out three batters. The Twins' No. 3 prospect threw 26 innings this fall and finished with a 3.12 ERA and a 28-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Even though he hit a home run off him, Souza said he was impressed by Meyer, who is ranked No. 31 on MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list.
"He's got electric stuff, swing-and-miss stuff," Souza said. "I can't say enough about the guy. I know he's going to be up there soon. The Twins have something to look forward to."
After Meyer left the game, the Solar Sox added an unearned run in the fourth inning. Third baseman Matt Skole, the Nationals' No. 10 prospect, tripled and scored on a throwing error. Skole was Mesa's only player with two hits Wednesday. He went 2-for-3 with a walk.
Though the Solar Sox offense was unable to add any more runs, their pitching staff made sure three runs was enough. The Solar Sox have the league's best ERA (3.24) and showed why on Wednesday. Starter Matt Loosen and five relievers combined to hold the Desert Dogs to two runs and nine hits.
Left fielder Brent Keys, the Marlins' No. 17 prospect, went 3-for-5 with a run to lead Glendale.
Souza said they did a good job of working out of jams throughout the game.
"Our pitching really stepped up to find a way to get the outs we needed," Souza said. "It was a huge team effort. Pitching, defense, all the way around."
Souza played his own part in the victory. His role on the taxi squad means he can only play twice a week, which he said wasn't easy at first. But now he feels comfortable in a reserve role.
"I definitely learned a different role -- how to come off the bench and not play every day," Souza said. "I got to talk to [hitting coaches] Brian Harper and Troy [Gingrich] about how to do those things. There was a bit of a learning curve, but it was fun. It was a great challenge."