The Las Vegas 51’s officially ended an eleven year playoff drought Saturday evening. By defeating the Tuscon Padres, they eliminated the Sacramento River Cats from playoff contention in the Pacific Southern standings, and clinched their first division flag since the 2002 season.
The current 51’s were established in 2001 as an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a season later made their only playoff appearance of the new millennium. Their affiliation with L.A. ended in 2008, when the Toronto Blue Jays took over until the conclusion of the 2012 season. During last year’s Open Period, they came into agreement with the Mets. Modern AAA-baseball in Sin City kicked off in 1983 with the Las Vegas Stars, who went on to win seven division titles starting with their inaugural season, and again in 1984, 1986 through 1988, 1992 and in 1996. The Las Vegas Stars won Pacific Coast League championships in 1986 and 1988.
Saturday night’s game against the Tuscon Padres was a back and forth affair, which required crafty bullpen work over the final 4.1 innings of the game. Chris Schwinden made Saturday’s start against Tuscon, but only last 4.2 innings before Wally Backman started mixing and matching. Chris allowed four earned runs on nine hits, walked none and struck out four. He allowed a big three run home run to Padres first baseman Brandon Allen in the third inning, who hit two homers in the game.
After taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning on Ruben Tejada‘s home run, the Padres struck for three runs in the third. But in the bottom of the inning, a single by Mike Baxter, a triple by Zack Lutz, and another single by Eric Campbell tied the game at three. Catcher Francisco Pena gave the 51’s a 4-3 lead in the fourth with his ninth home run of the season. Both teams exchanged a pair of runs in the fifth inning. For Las Vegas, left fielder Jamie Hoffman hit a two out, two run scoring double. Then in the seventh, Dustin Lawley‘s base hit drove in two more runs to give the 51’s an 8-5 lead. Tuscon scored one more time in the ninth only to lose by an 8-6 final.
In relief, Sean Henn was credited with his third win. Cory Wade earned his first save of the season. First baseman Eric Campbell was 3 for 4 in the game, with a double. He is now batting .310 since taking over full time for Josh Satin.
Las Vegas’ victory was their eighty-first of the season. With an 81-61 record, they own the best record in the Pacific Coast League. The American Southern Division champs, the Oklahoma City RedHawks are second in the circuit with an 80-62 record.
The Salt Lake Bees clinched the Pacific Northern Division. The American Northern Division is the only race left up for grabs, where the Memphis Red Birds have a one game lead over the Omaha Storm Chasers, and a magic number of two.
The 51’s have two more regular season games remaining, both against the Tuscon Padres. The Pacific Coast League conference finals begin Friday, September 6th.
The last Mets AAA-affiliate to win a division crown was the New Orleans Zephyrs during the 2007 season. Between 2009 and 2012, the Buffalo Bisons failed to make the International League post-season during their four year affiliation with the Mets. In their thirty- eight year affiliation with the Mets between 1969 and 2006, the Norfolk Tides won five International League titles, and last won a division flag for the Mets back in 2005.