A big five-run fourth inning was the spark the host Aeros needed to claim their third Eastern League Championship title in seven years Saturday night at Canal Park.
But it was fittingly a classic Carlos Santana two-run home run an inning later that provided the big blow to clinch the outcome early, as the Eastern League MVP piled on with a moon-shot that cleared the right field bleachers and helped the Aeros to a 10-6 victory over visiting Connecticut.
"It's been a real special year for myself and all these guys," Aeros manager Mike Sarbaugh said. "What a super group of guys. Every time new guys came up, they bought right in and helped us out."
The tone of the night was set early by Aeros starting pitcher Scott Barnes, who found himself facing some of his former teammates for the second time after being sent to Cleveland in the Ryan Garko trade to San Francisco.
Had Barnes not been traded, he probably would have pitched against the Aeros in the finals as the Defenders added a handful of young hurlers for help in the playoffs.
Instead, he took the mound wearing a purple Aeros jersey and went on to earn the win in limiting the Defenders to two unearned runs on two hits while striking out seven through five innings.
"You couldn't have asked for a better performance out of Scott," Sarbaugh said. "He threw awesome, especially coming of an 11-day layoff."
Opposing Barnes (originally selected in the eighth round of the 2008 draft) on the mound was Connecticut starter and fellow lefty Ari Ronick, who was making just his second start at the Double-A level after being called up from low Class-A Augusta.
Ronick, the parent-club Giants' 12th-round pick also from the the 2008 draft class, didn't fare as well Saturday as he did in his debut last week against New Britain, when he pitched Connecticut into the E.L. Finals.
Against the Aeros, Ronick wasn't nearly as sharp. He lasted just three-plus innings, giving up five runs on six hits and three walks to take the loss.
Akron started the scoring with a run in the second inning thanks to two free passes issued by Ronick and an RBI-double by Jose Constanza. The host came right back with another run in the second to take a two-run lead aided by an error.
But it was a pair of Akron errors on the same play in the fourth inning that gift-wrapped Connecticut's first two runs in the fourth inning and tied the game. With two outs, Barnes issued his first walk of the night to Eddy Martinez-Esteve and Brad Boyer followed with a single up the middle.
Castro then slapped a routine ball to Aeros third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, who threw the ball wide right to second base for what should have been the inning-ending force out.
But the ball trickled out to shallow right field, where an over-anxious John Drennen tried to get Boyer advancing to third. But Drennen put way too much on his throw as it sailed into the stands and allowed Boyer to slowly trot home.
Drennen promptly made up for his mistake in the bottom of the inning when he sent Ronick's first offering into the bleachers beyond the right field wall to hand the Aeros the lead again.
The home run not only ended Ronick's night after just three-plus innings, but also sparked a five-run frame in which the host took a 7-2 lead as it batted around and sent 11 men to the plate.
"It just imploded on us," Connecticut manager Steve Decker said. "Once they got the momentum going, we couldn't stop them."
After Santana's two-run shot pushed Akron's advantage to seven runs, the Aeros added one more insurance run in the sixth on a Constanza RBI-single that pushed the Aeros' lead to an insurmountable eight-run cushion.
The defenders climbed to within six runs with a two-run eighth inning and then closed the gap to four runs in the ninth, but the rally proved to be a little too late.
AEROS NOTEBOOK: * SALUTING THE ARMY: Minor League baseball sent an edict to the Aeros after they won the Eastern League Southern Division Series three-games-to-none over Reading, mandating that the club stop wearing their favorite jerseys - their alternate camoflauge jersey - through the remainder of the playoffs.
Not only are the camos considered "specialty jerseys" that are only to be worn for special ocassions, but minor league baseball officials also considered the Army patch sewn on each jersey's left arm to be a form of banned advertisment.
But minor league baseball didn't cover all their bases. For, they failed to ban anyone else from wearing the camoflauge jerseys asscoiated with the tyeam. Thus, the camos were spotted all over Saturday at Canal Park - worn by front office workers, the grounds crew, the bat boys and even the team's mascot Orbit.
Many believe they were the Aeros good luck charm Saturday. * AKRON'S HOT HITTERS: Outfielder Jerad Head has been the Aeros spark plug and RBI leader throughout the playoffs, earning him the Eastern League Postseason MVP honors.
But rookie third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and second baseman Josh Rodriguez made their marks as well.
Chisenhall entered Saturday's play quietly leading all hitters in the post season with a healthy .520 (13-for-25) batting average that was helped by a three-hit effort in Friday's 8-7 loss to visiting Connecticut. Meanwhile, Rodriguez extended his hitting streak to 15 consecutive games Saturday with a first-inning single and went to go 3-for-4 with two runs scored.
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