KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The Kansas City Monarchs were crowned kings of American Association baseball Monday night at Legends Field.
Kansas City scored the game's first three runs and got a stellar start from right-hander Keyvius Sampson. The Monarchs used that combination to score an 8-1 victory against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in Game 3 of the league's championships series. The game's start was delayed nearly 70 minutes due to rain.
Kansas City earned a 3-0 sweep in the best-of-5 championship series. The Monarchs won all six of their playoff games to cruise to the American Association title. They had a 69-31 record in the regular season that was tops in the league. The RedHawks were trying to win their first league championship since a Northern League title in 2010, and their first American Association crown.
“They’re a really good team. You look at their roster, they are very similar to us, they just outplayed us in some big moments," RedHawks manager Chris Coste said. “They beat us usually the way that we’ve (defeated) teams all year long with those big moments, really capitalizing on those mistakes. They just outplayed us these three games and they’re an incredible team. From the 10th game of the (regular) season, they were the best team in the league and they kept it on rolling."
Sampson pitched five innings, allowing one unearned run on four hits. He struck out four batters, walked one and didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning. Right fielder Gabriel Guerrero fueled the Monarchs offense, going 2-for-5 with four RBIs. Guerrero was named the finals most valuable player.
Five Monarchs pitchers combined to limit the RedHawks to five hits. Third baseman Leo Pina went 2-for-4 with an RBI to pace the RedHawks. F-M defeated the Milwaukee Milkmen in a one-game wild card playoff before earning a dramatic 3-2 series victory against the Chicago Dogs in the North Division championship series.
“We had an incredibly emotional five-game series against Chicago, turned right around and had to face Kansas City. It wasn’t easy," Coste said. "That’s not an excuse, that’s just Kansas City, as amazing as they are, they really took it to us.”
Kansas City pushed its lead to six runs in the sixth inning. Shortstop Morgan McCullough belted a two-run double that gave the Monarchs a 7-1 lead. McCullough finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs and scored two runs. Third baseman Darnell Sweeney added an RBI single in the eighth inning that gave Kansas City an 8-1 edge. Sweeney went 3-for-5 with an RBI and scored a run.
“Great roster, great coaching staff, great manager, great ownership, all that stuff," Coste said of the Monarchs. "Right now they are the champions and they earned it.”
Kansas City never trailed in Game 3. The Monarchs took the lead in the third inning, loading the bases with two outs. Guerrero cleared the bases with a double to right field that gave Kansas City a 3-0 lead. RedHawks left-handed starter Matt Tomshaw nearly escaped the jam before Guerrero delivered the clutch hit.
Sampson cruised early, retiring the first 11 RedHawks in order before Jordan George reach on an error with two outs in the fourth inning. George then advanced to second base on a wild pitch before a Pina single scored George to cut the Monarchs' lead to 3-1. The RedHawks threatened to add more runs in the fourth, but right fielder John Silviano struck out looking on a full count with runners on first and third base.
The Monarchs extended their lead with two runs in the fifth inning. Guerrero sparked the rally with an RBI single that scored McCullough for a 4-1 lead. Guerrero was thrown out on the play, trying to advance to second base. Kansas City took a 5-1 lead after Sweeney scored from third base on a wild pitch.
“I thought we defied the odds," Coste said. “We just kept on getting better over the course of the season. ... It was a really, really resilient group. Offensively, we were able to do some amazing things all year long. When things were rough, our offense kept us in it and then the pitching evolved.”
The RedHawks lost four veteran starting pitchers to Major League Baseball organizations before mid-June after left-hander Kevin McGovern had his contract transferred to the St. Louis Cardinals. The RedHawks announced the McGovern move June 10. Left-handed starter Tyler Pike and right-handed starter Kevin Herget had their contracts transferred near the end of May. Prior to the season, right-handed starter Frank Duncan was moved to the Colorado Rockies organization.
“We came up short, but I feel like we accomplished an incredible amount with the adversity that we faced," Coste said. "I can’t be any more proud of the guys on our team and the organization and everyone involved. It was really a year where it could have slipped away from us at midpoint. Not only did it not slip away, but we thrived and that’s a championship-level team.”