Carlos Santana homered and drove in three runs to power the Akron Aeros over Connecticut 10-6 to win the 2009 Eastern League championship. Akron defeated the Defenders in four games in the best-of-five finals to cap a marvelous season and win its third title. Akron also won in 2003 and 2005. John Drennen also homered, Scott Barnes pitched five strong innings, and Jerad Head was named playoffs MVP.
Santana, voted the league's Most Valuable Player for the regular season, put an exclamation point on the Aeros' win with a two-run homer to deep right in the fifth inning that gave Akron a 9-2 lead. He also walked twice, scored twice and had an RBI single, finishing the playoffs with a .296 average.
The Aeros took a 1-0 lead in the second on an RBI single by Jose Constanza following a pair of walks. Santana made it 2-0 in the third, as he scored from first on a double by Beau Mills.
Connecticut tied it with two unearned runs in the fourth. With two outs and runners on first and second, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall fielded what should have been an inning-ending grounder. But he threw wildly to first base for an error. Right fielder John Drennen picked up the ball and threw wildly into the Aeros dugout behind third base for another error and two runs scored.
Drennen, who hit .379 overall in the playoffs, atoned for it by hitting the first pitch of the bottom of the fourth over the wall in right for a 3-2 lead.
The Aeros played small ball to manufacture a huge lead, taking advantage of walks and miscues.
Head reached on a nubbed single to the pitcher, then Costanza was safe when his bunt was mishandled by the first baseman. After a pitching chance Josh Rodriguez reached on a bunt single to load the bases. Santana walked, forcing home Head for a 4-2 lead.
Mills drove in a run with a fielder's choice groundout, and Matt McBride walked to reload the bases. Rodriguez scored on a groundout by Chisenhall to make it 6-2, then walks by Carlos Rivero and Drennen forced home another run.
Constanza had a two-out RBI single in the sixth to give Akron a 10-2 lead.
Another throwing error by Chisenhall helped the Defenders score two more unearned runs in the eighth. Closer Josh Judy allowed three hits and two earned runs in the ninth before retiring the side as the Aeros mobbed each other in celebration.
Barnes beat his former team in the title-clinching game. He pitched for the Defenders earlier this year as a member of the San Francisco Giants organization, but was traded to the Cleveland Indians for first baseman Ryan Garko in late July and assigned to Akron.
The right-hander struck out seven, walked three and gave up two hits and two unearned runs.
Carlton Smith yielded two more unearned runs over 2 2-3 innings. He fanned one and gave up four hits. Zach Putnam faced one batter and got the final out of the eighth.
Rodriguez had three hits, while Constanza, Santana, Mills and Drennen all had two apiece.
Head went 1-for-4 and scored a run in the clinching victory, but had been the key player as Akron swept three straight games from Reading in the first round to advance to the finals for the fifth straight year. Head drove in eight runs in that series and hit .345 overall in Akron's seven postseason games.
Chisenhall went 1-for-5 with a run and RBI in the final game. Promoted from Class A Kinston two months ago, he was the leading hitter overall in the playoffs with a .467 average.
The Aeros nearly went 6-0 in the postseason. their only loss was a wild 8-7 setback Friday night.
Mike Sarbaugh, voted the EL Manager of the Year, won his third title. The 42-year-old former Aeros outfielder guided short-season Mahoning Valley to the 2004 title in the New York-Penn League and led Class A Advanced Kinston to the 2006 Carolina League championship.
After beating Portland in four games for its second title in three seasons in 2005, the Aeros lost in the finals to Portland in 2006 and Trenton in both 2007 and 2008.