August 31, 2013 - 9:46 pm
Las Vegas 8, Tucson 6
Key: Jamie Hoffmann drilled a decisive two-run, two-out double in the fifth inning for the 51s, who clinched their first Pacific Coast League playoff spot since 2002.
Next: Padres (LHP Jason Lane, 2-2, 5.72 ERA) at 51s (RHP Giancarlo Alvarado, 5-4, 3.49), 7:05 p.m. today, KBAD-AM (920)
Resiliency has been the hallmark of the 51s, who’ve overcome the loss of a plethora of players to the parent New York Mets this season and rallied for several comeback wins down the stretch.
It’s fitting that, a day after Las Vegas blew a chance to clinch a Pacific Coast League playoff berth, it bounced back to beat Tucson 8-6 on Saturday night before a crowd of 7,207 at Cashman Field to secure its first trip to the postseason since 2002.
“These guys have overcome a lot of adversity, no question, with all the moves we’ve made,” 51s manager Wally Backman said. “The guys have all contributed. Guys that didn’t go to the big leagues responded and have done the job I don’t think any of us thought they’d do.
“They worked their ass off and that’s how you win championships.”
Most of the players wore goggles as they sprayed beer and champagne on each other — even squirting some mustard and ketchup as well — in the clubhouse in a joyous, raucous postgame celebration.
“This is the first playoff team I’ve been on with the Mets organization and it has been a lot of fun,” said a soaked Las Vegas third baseman Zach Lutz. “Everybody gets along with each other and we’ve all got each other’s back.”
The Pacific South Division champion 51s (81-61) will face the Pacific North Division champion Salt Lake Bees (78-64) in a best-of-5 series starting Wednesday in Salt Lake City.
Game 2 is scheduled for Thursday at Salt Lake — the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels — and Game 3 is slated for Friday at Cashman Field.
If necessary, Games 4 and 5 will take place Saturday and Sept. 8 in Las Vegas.
The 51s would’ve clinched the division title by virtue of Sacramento’s (78-64) 4-0 loss to Tacoma, but took care of business themselves.
“You want to win,” Backman said. “You don’t want to go to the playoffs on a bad note.”
In a seesaw affair featuring four lead changes, Jamie Hoffmann drilled a two-run, two-out double in the fifth to give the 51s a 6-5 lead and Dustin Lawley lined a pinch-hit two-run single in the seventh to make it 8-5.
Gregorio Petit homered with one out in the ninth for the Padres (75-67), who squandered several scoring chances amid several stellar defensive plays by Las Vegas.
Brandon Allen belted two nearly identical go-ahead home runs to right field for Tucson — a three-run shot in the third that gave it a 3-1 lead and a two-run blast in the fifth that gave it a 5-4 edge.
The 51s went ahead 4-3 in the fourth, when Francisco Pena crushed a towering, tiebreaking leadoff solo shot to left.
Las Vegas rallied for two runs with two outs in the third to tie it. Lutz ripped an RBI triple to deep center field to score Mike Baxter, who singled, and Eric Campbell followed with an RBI single.
The 51s went ahead 1-0 in the first, when Ruben Tejada hit a solo homer to left.
Las Vegas, which was never more than five games out of first place this season — its first as the Mets’ affiliate after four with the Toronto Blue Jays — turned it on after the All-Star Break, going 32-15, including 18-5 at home.
The 51s went to the playoffs five times in their first six seasons — winning the PCL title in 1986 and 1988 — but had reached the postseason only three times in the past 24 years.
This season also marks only the fourth time in franchise history that Las Vegas has won at least 80 games. It finished a franchise-best 85-59 in 2002, when it was in its second season as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ affiliate and fell in the first round of the playoffs to the Edmonton Trappers, 3-1.
The then-Stars went 83-60 in Las Vegas’ inaugural 1983 season and 80-62 in its 1986 championship season.