There was a missed opportunity 24 hours earlier, but in what came to characterize them in 2023, the Amarillo Sod Poodles didn’t sulk over it.
That’s why they brought home their second Texas League championship in five seasons at Hodgetown on Wednesday night.
In the third and decisive game of the Texas League Championship series against the Arkansas Travelers, the Sod Poodles weren’t about to disappoint their fans or themselves in the final game of the season. Jumping on top with Camden Duzenack’s second inning grand slam, the Sod Poodles got the upper hand early and kept it on the Travelers the rest of the way, cruising to a 9-1 victory and a 2-1 series victory which appropriately encapsulated their championship season.
It was hard to find any holes in the Sod Poodles the last time they took the field for the season, as they produced more than enough offense, got stellar pitching on a “bullpen” night and committed no errors. The win quickly erased a 6-5 loss to the Travelers at Hodgetown a night earlier.
While there were 28 players in the dugout when the Soddies took the field for the last time, the championship belongs just as much to those who were promoted, traded or injured and couldn’t be in town for the championship.
“I don’t know how many guys we had here this year but every single one of them had a part in this,” Sod Poodles manager Shawn Roof said. “That’s what’s really cool about this team. Everybody stepped up who had a big opportunity and a big moment for us. Some had it more than others, but everybody contributed to this.”
It was symbolic that Duzenack got things going offensively for the Sod Poodles in their biggest game of the season. Playing shortstop and hitting leadoff, Duzenack was filling the shoes of Jordan Lawlar, who is now at shortstop with the Sod Poodles parent club Arizona Diamondbacks, and Ryan Bliss, the second baseman who was traded to the Seattle Mariners organization.
After a scoreless first, the Sod Poodles put their bottom three hitters in the lineup on base against left-hander Ben Onyshko. Juan Centeno singled between Kristian Robinson and Jancarlos Cintron getting hit by pitches to load the bases and bring up Duzenack.
A night earlier, Duzenack led off the first by hitting the second pitch of the game over the left field wall to put the first run of the game on the board. He came up even bigger in the championship game, as he hit Onyshko’s first pitch the opposite way onto the berm in right field to give the Sod Poodles a 4-0 lead.
“It was pretty big under the circumstances obviously,” Duzenack said. “What a blessing to be a part of this team. These guys are fighters and you can see that. We played our butts off this whole year.
“I saw (Onyshko) hit two guys that inning with sliders, both righties and I didn’t think he would throw me one early in the at-bat. He wasn’t a flamethrower so I just wanted to let the ball get deep and hit a fly ball and put a run on the board. I’m thankful that the approach worked in that situation.”
The Sod Poodles weren’t done in the inning. A.J. Vukovich hit a sacrifice fly to drive in a run and Seth Beer’s RBI single capped the inning to make it 6-0.
After that, it was pretty much about pitching for the Soddies. Conor Grammes, a reliever, did his job starting and then some.
Grammes went four innings and faced the minimum 12 batters, striking out six and giving up one hit. The only disappointment in his performance was that he didn’t qualify for the win.
“We hoped to get maybe three, but he came out locked in and ready to go,” said Roof of Grammes. “It seems when he gets a chance to start he does a great job, and he really set the tone and gave us a chance to win tonight.”
The only other scoring for the Sod Poodles came when they got three runs in the fifth, capped by Robinson’s two-run homer to make it 9-0.
Left-hander Emailin Montilla picked up the win with two scoreless innings of relief. The only blot on Amarillo’s pitching ledger came when Leo Rivas had an RBI double off Michel Otanez for the only Arkansas run.
Christian Montes De Oca came on in the ninth and finished the job on seven pitches, striking out Robert Perez on three pitches to clinch the Sod Poodles second Texas League title. The first came in their inaugural season of 2019 when they were affiliated with the San Diego Padres.
To bring home another title, the Soddies had to bounce back from a disappointment in game two. Arkansas took a 5-1 lead in the fifth before the Sod Poodles chipped away as Beer tied the game 5-5 with a solo homer in the eighth. That didn’t hold up, though, as Rivas led off the ninth with a homer off Taylor Rashi.
If there was an ill effect from that game, it never showed up Wednesday.
“We told them at the beginning let’s play Sod Poodle baseball and treat this the same as all the games before,” Roof said. “We didn’t have a big playoff practice, or make a big playoff speech. We took (batting practice) in the cages and didn’t want to make it bigger than it was. Now these guys can all say they’re champions for the rest of their lives.”
The Sod Poodles took a 1-0 series lead Sunday when they won the first game in Little Rock 3-2. It was their third straight road win of the postseason.
Amarillo took a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth when Robinson’s double drove in Beer, then Robinson scored on a fielding error. The Soddies went up 3-1 in the top of the sixth when Deyvison De Los Santos doubled to drive home Vukovich.
That was huge, since the Travelers scored a run in the bottom of the ninth to cut it to 3-2. Sod Poodles reliever Christian Montes De Oca got Rivas to ground into a double play to end the game and earn the save.