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PCL: Salt Lake faces Omaha in championship series

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Matt Shoemaker pitches for the Bees in game action against the Las Vegas 51s, Monday, July 8, 2013.

By Steve Luhm

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Sep 09 2013 11:10AM
Updated Feb 14, 2014 11:34PM

Salt Lake City’s pro baseball team hasn’t made an appearance in the Pacific Coast League championship series since 2002, but that all changes on Tuesday night.

The Salt Lake Bees meet the Omaha Storm Chasers in the league finals beginning Tuesday night in Omaha, Neb. Game 1 in the best-of-five series starts at 6:05 p.m. MDT.

Salt Lake, known as the Stingers when it last made the PCL finals, qualified for the 2013 championship series by defeating Las Vegas in the divisional playoffs, 3-1. At first glance, it might look like the Bees dominated, but don’t be fooled.

The series with the 51s was wickedly competitive. All four games were decided by one run, two were won in walk-off fashion and the Bees never enjoyed more than a two-run lead at any point in 35 1/2 innings.

"It was awesome," said Salt Lake manager Keith Johnson. "That’s what playoff baseball is all about. You get out there and compete. You just battle and battle. ... The way that series played out is a tribute to both teams."

A key to the Bees’ success was their effective starting pitcher. Matt Shoemaker, John Hanson, Jarrett Grube and Billy Buckner all gave Johnson at least six innings

"Those guys never let anything get out of hand," Johnson said. "They all got us deep into the ball game and that really helps your bullpen. Instead of asking [relief pitchers] to get 16 or 18 outs, you’re asking them to get nine. That’s huge."

Shoemaker will start Game 1 against Omaha, with Hanson likely going in Game 2.

Shoemaker went 11-13 with a 4.64 earned average during the regular season. Down the stretch, he was the Bees’ most consistent pitcher. In his last five starts, he won three times and had two no-decisions.

Shoemaker started the opening game of the division series against Las Vegas and, despite not having his best stuff, kept the Bees in the game by allowing only three runs in six innings.

"I have all the confidence in the world in all our guys," Johnson said. "They’ve been getting it done all year and I don’t expect anything different now."

Omaha reached the championship series with a surprising 3-0 sweep over Oklahoma City, which owned the best record in the league (82-62) during the regular season.

The Storm Chasers are the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. They got into the playoffs by winning the PCL American North Division, despite a so-so 70-74 record.

"These guys are just confident right now," Storm Chaser manager Mike Jirschele told the Omaha World Herald. "They feel like as long as we’re within striking distance that we’re going to win games. That’s a great feeling to have going into the championship series."

The survivor of the Salt Lake-Omaha series plays the International League winner in the Triple-A national championship game on Sept. 17 at Allentown, Pa.

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