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Arizona native lifts Peoria to AFL title

Arizona native lifts Peoria to AFL title

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- White Sox prospect C.J. Retherford is a local product to whom the Arizona Fall League dynasty of Phoenix meant something.

So bringing the Desert Dogs' dominance to an end was particularly meaningful for the second baseman, whose two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning gave the Peoria Javelinas a 5-4 victory over Phoenix in Saturday's thrilling AFL championship game in front of 3,521 in Scottsdale Stadium.

"That was a big thing. They'd won the championship so many years in a row," Retherford said.

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There was no sixth in a row for the Dogs.

Tampa Bay farmhand Shawn O'Malley's tiebreaking single had given them a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh, but soon after right-hander Josh Perrault, the sixth pitcher deployed by Phoenix manager Gary Cathcart, was treated roughly by Peoria.

Jonathan Lucroy, the backstop out of Milwaukee's organization, singled sharply to left with one away in the bottom of the eighth to bring up Retherford, who, on a 1-0 pitch, knew what he wanted.

"Something straight, middle-in," Retherford said.

The resident of Chandler and product of Arizona State got it, and put "a nice, compact swing" on Perrault's fastball, sending it on a line over the left-field fence.

A few minutes later, Detroit prospect Robbie Weinhardt finished his two hitless innings, and the game, with a strikeout of one of Oakland's top prospects, Jemile Weeks, and the celebration was on.

The Peoria players, who dream of being big leaguers soon enough, emulated their Major League forebears by piling atop each other on the mound in glee.

You could have called it a dog pile -- but not a Desert Dogs pile.

Tampa Bay prospect Mitch Talbot, pressed into starting duty for Phoenix after scheduled starter and No. 1 pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft by the Nationals, Stephen Strasburg, incurred a left-knee dislocation and had to be scratched, did a credible job in three innings, allowing a pair of runs.

Then the Desert Dogs began to match Peoria's bullpen parade, which was by design.

Peoria manager Kevin Bradshaw's decision to start reliever Anthony Varvaro -- a righty out of the Seattle organization whose prior 10 appearances had all been out of the bullpen -- yielded the odd sight of a starting pitcher beginning the game working from the stretch.

Varvaro's preferred style proved appropriate when Mark Angle led the game off with a triple, scoring seconds later on Danny Espinosa's infield grounder.

Five more pitchers followed Varvaro to the mound, and collectively they did enough to contain the AFL's loudest offense. Phoenix averaged seven runs during the 32-game AFL regular season.

"If our pitchers could hold them to under five runs," Bradshaw said, "I knew we had enough offense to win."

The Javelinas pitchers did so by living up to their reputation for throwing fire, combining to pile up 15 strikeouts.

Phoenix answered Peoria's little-ball go-ahead two-run rally in the second -- the runs scored on a fielder's choice grounder and Dustin Ackley's infield single -- loudly in the fourth.

A's prospect Grant Desme, the AFL's freshly named MVP, homered with one away to make it 2-2, and an out later Nevin Ashley also homered, to right-center, for a 3-2 lead.

The Javelinas came right back in the bottom of the fourth to tie it up at 3, on another run-scoring force-play grounder, this one off the bat of Jordan Danks.

The Desert Dogs had one more punch, on O'Malley's single to deliver Ashley, who had singled, stolen second and continued to third on Lucroy's throwing error, but the Javelinas landed the decisive counter-punch.

"This was awesome, to be able to do this with my family and friends here," said Retherford, signed in June 2007 by Chicago as a non-drafted free agent, "and to do it in a game played at such a high level."

For the Desert Dogs, caught between a very long year of ball and a very short rest before again cranking it up, there was only disappointment.

"It would've been nice to win after leading for much of the game," Desme said. "And it hurt to lose the way we did, late. But that's the way it goes."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Change for a Nickel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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