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Columbus Clippers closing in on 2nd consecutive Triple-A championship

Lauren Hallow / Lantern photographer

Minor league baseball clubs contend with many obstacles over the course of a season, including player transactions and meeting the needs of their Major League parent clubs.

The Columbus Clippers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, overcame numerous hindrances to success in 2011 and won its second consecutive Governor’s Cup Championship against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs Friday. They will now represent the International League in the Triple-A National Championship Game against Pacific League champion Omaha Storm Chasers today.

In just his second season as Clippers manager, Mike Sarbaugh led his team to an 88-56 regular season record — the best in the International League’s West division. The Clippers met the Durham Bulls, the South division champs, in the first round of the playoffs, and swept the Bulls, 3-0, to advance to play the Lehigh Valley IronPigs for the Governor’s Cup championship.

Columbus responded to its 5-2 loss in game one of the best-of-five championship series by winning the next three games, the last two of which were at the IronPigs’ Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pa., to advance to today’s Triple-A national championship game.

After the Clippers’ game two win at Huntington Park, first baseman Beau Mills said the search for consistent success is what minor league ball is all about.

“It’s learning how to have consecutive (winning) seasons,” Mills said, “and don’t lose focus throughout the year.”

Focus can be hard to maintain with a changing cast of players, though — Columbus endured 37 player transactions of various sorts in September alone.

Eleven of those transactions were players moving between the Clippers and Indians.

“That’s part of the game,” Mills said. “You’re happy for them (players that get called up), but the guys coming up are going to be great players. That’s why they’re coming up here. So, we don’t necessarily take it on us as a team when we lose somebody.

“We expect that guy that’s getting called up to step right in.”

Columbus third baseman Jared Goedert agreed.

“We’ve had guys step in and do just as well or even better in some cases,” he said. “It’s just been the consistency of guys that are here and guys that continue to come up or come down.”

Goedert also said that, as minor league players, the frequency of player transactions is a reminder of the goal that each player is chasing: to become an every-day lineup fixture with a big league club.

“You realize, at this level of play especially, (the transactions) are a part of it, a part of the process,” he said. “If anything else, for the guys who are still here, it makes you realize you are right there.

“I mean, yeah, you lose a good player, but you realize you’ve got to do your job and it’s a good thing to know that you’re that close (to the Majors).”

Speaking of close, the Clippers are also one win away from back-to-back national championships.

Today, Columbus will face the Pacific Coast League champion Storm Chasers in the one-off, winner-take-all Triple-A National Championship game in Albuquerque, N.M.

Omaha, the minor league affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, captured the Pacific Coast League’s American Northern division championship after compiling a regular season record of 79-62. The Storm Chasers earned their berth in the national championship game when they beat the Sacramento River Cats, 11-6, Friday.

The Pacific Coast League championship is the first in team history for the Storm Chasers.

So, the playoff-tested Clippers are now set for a title clash with Omaha, national championship game newcomers.

The Clippers did not immediately respond to The Lantern’s Monday request for comment.

Sarbaugh, who was named the International League’s 2011 Manager of the Year, said last week that the Clippers will rely on their usual strengths, which he says are “pitching and good hitting.”

“We’ve just done a good job scouting players. We have a lot of guys get called up, but the talent we bring in is good and they seem to just pick up where they left off,” Sarbaugh said.

Picking up where Columbus left off the 2010 season would mean claiming the national title, but Mills said Wednesday the team doesn’t put added pressure on itself in the postseason.

“None of us are thinking about last year,” he said. “I think pressure is what you put on yourself and we aren’t putting that on ourselves.”

First pitch of today’s championship game in Albuquerque, N.M., at Isotopes Park is scheduled for 8 p.m. MDT.

Jessica Shambaugh contributed to this story.

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