By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — One by one the Everett AquaSox took their bows behind the mound at Everett Memorial Stadium, Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blaring through the sound system and the crowd thundering its approval.
Hoisted in their arms: the Northwest League championship trophy, which for just the second time will have “Everett” etched into one of its panels.
In their biggest game of the season the AquaSox produced a near-perfect performance, and Everett claimed its first league title in 25 years by beating the Spokane Indians 6-1 Sunday evening.
“It’s awesome,” was how first baseman Evan Sharpley, who set the tone with an early home run, described the feeling. “Any time you win a championship it’s special. Everybody in there deserves it.”
Said shortstop Anthony Phillips: “It feels like a lot of hard work just paid off. A lot of yelling from (manager) Jose Moreno and (coach) Scott Steinmann all paid off. It was great.”
The championship ended Everett’s long and agonizing wait for its second league title. The only other championship in franchise history came way back in 1985 when the team was the Giants.
And Sunday’s victory in the winner-takes-all Game 3 was a fitting end to a historic season that saw Everett dominate the regular season and match a franchise record with 49 wins. The Sox excelled Sunday in every way they excelled during the season. The pitching, led by starter Anthony Fernandez, kept the Indians in check every time they threatened to score. The offense, with Sharpley leading the way, was its usual combination of power and patience. The defense, highlighted by Robbie Anston’s two sterling grabs in center, made sure Spokane didn’t get any extra outs.
As a result Sunday’s game wasn’t a nail-biter like each of Everett’s previous four playoff games, which all went down to the final out.
“It’s a great feeling,” Moreno said. “Our memory all season long was from our first preseason game (against the Everett Merchants, when the Sox lost 10-5 to the amateur team). We didn’t look real good that day, but we prepared to play a long season, and the kids played so hard. When you play hard and have a real work ethic, good things are going to happen. They deserve it, they worked so hard every day.”
It also helped having Fernandez available. The all-star left-hander from the Dominican Republic turned in an eerily similar performance to his clinching victory against Vancouver on Tuesday in the division series. Fernandez allowed baserunners, giving up four hits and three walks in seven innings. But he made the key pitches when it mattered most, inducing groundouts with runners in scoring position to keep the Indians off the board.
“When you have a real confidence in your pitches, you can pitch for contact, especially since we have a real good defense,” Moreno said about Fernandez. “He made sure those guys were ready. He threw strikes, got ahead in the count, mixed his pitches to keep the hitters off balance, and did a great job.”
The victory completed a comeback in the series. Everett dropped the opener at Spokane on Thursday. However the Sox, who were a league-best 30-8 at home during the regular season, backed up those numbers by sweeping the final two games at home.
And Sunday’s result never seemed in doubt. Fernandez cruised through the first two innings, and Sharpley gave the Sox the lead in the bottom of the second. The left-handed hitter went the opposite way, sending a long fly ball slicing down the left-field line. The only question was whether the ball would be fair or foul, and when it hit the netting along the foul pole Everett had a 1-0 lead.
“I think it was important to get off to a quick start,” Sharpley said. “We’re playing at home and we have the best record at home in all of baseball. Once we got off to a good start it was tough for Spokane to respond to that. Give a lot of credit to Fernandez on the mound and the defense, it was a real team win.”
Then after Fernandez got himself out of jams in the third and fourth, the Sox broke the game open in the bottom of the fourth.
Everett got things started when Kevin Rivers led off with a walk and Hawkins Gebbers followed by lining a double off the left-field wall, giving the Sox runners at second and third with nobody out. Sharpley then hit a grounder right at first baseman Andrew Clark, who had the ball carom off his glove and into the outfield. Two runs scored on the error to increase the lead to 3-0.
But the Sox weren’t done. With two on and two out, Phillips ripped a drive to center that banged off the top of the wall. That plated two more runs and sent Spokane starter Randol Rojas to the showers. Terry Serrano later added an RBI single off reliever Zach Osborne to give Everett a commanding six-run lead.
That six-run advantage held up until the ninth, when Spokane’s Santiago Chirino lined a two-out RBI double into the left-field corner to break the shutout. However, Tyler Burgoon came in and fanned Jacob Skole on three straight pitches to set off a jubilant celebration in the infield.