Kansas City T-Bones rally again, clinch American Association championship

The Kansas City T-Bones celebrated the American Association championship Saturday night at their home park in Kansas City, Kan.
The Kansas City T-Bones celebrated the American Association championship Saturday night at their home park in Kansas City, Kan. Special to The Star

Alay Lago isn’t typically a power hitter, but when he squares one up it can go a long way.

That was the case Saturday night, when Lago launched a sixth-inning, two-run homer over the left-field wall and out of T-Bones Stadium, giving the Kansas City T-Bones the lead — and, ultimately, the American Association championship.

The independent-league T-Bones took the best-of-five final series over the St. Paul Saints in four games, clinching the second title in franchise history with a 5-3 victory.

KC manager Joe Calfapietra summed up the defining characteristic of his team in one word: resilience. Forced to replace eight players lost to affiliated baseball during the season, his squad rallied for back-to-back comebacks against St. Paul’s bullpen for the title.

“We’ve been so resilient all year,” he said. “There’s no stopping us.”

T-Bones starter Jared Mortensen and Saints hurler Chris Nunn matched zeroes in the first three innings. Nunn didn’t even allow a hit.

The T-Bones finally manufactured a run in the fourth inning. Todd Cunningham drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on a ground-out, then went to third on a wild pitch. Not long after, he scored on Adrian Nieto’s sacrifice fly for the game’s first run.

St. Paul responded in the fifth, though. Dan Motl drew a one-out walk, then motored home from first as Joey Wong roped a double into right-center.

Inheriting a 1-1 game, KC reliever Marcus Crescentini gave up an RBI single to Kyle Barrett. Barrett was caught stealing, but greeted him by driving in his seventh run of the series with a soft single to center. After Barrett was caught stealing, but the Saints tacked on another run on a two-out, two-strike single.

Nunn worked into the sixth, departing after after a one-out single to Nieto. Lago then feasted on St. Paul reliever Mike Devine, demolishing a 2-2 fastball inside the left-field foul pole. The mammoth homer cleared the concourse and landed in the parking lot.

It was just the 13th home run of Lago’s career, which spans more than 400 games.

It was also, by far, his biggest.

“It’s obviously a huge homer,” Lago said through a translator. “In this stage, in a championship game, it’s a big moment.”

Kansas City tacked on another run in the seventh when Noah Perio Jr. brought in Ryan Brett with a ground-rule double.

Relievers Nick Lee and Cody Winiarski combined to get the final nine outs. Winiarski retired all four men he faced.

The T-Bones’ previous championship was the 2008 Northern League title.