Zach Daeges' player page
Cal League team batting
Bell named MVP, Rookie of the Year
Dress like a record-breaker
It was only fitting that the Lancaster JetHawks set a season high for runs on the night they shattered the California League single-season home run record.
Jon Still hit the record-breaking homer and Zach Daeges drove in a career-high six runs Sunday as the JetHawks crushed the Stockton Ports, 20-5, at Clear Channel Stadium.
Still, who spent most of the season with Class A Greenville, smacked a 2-0 pitch from Ports starter Vincent Mazzaro (9-12) over the left-center field fence leading off the bottom of the second inning. It was Lancaster's 204th home run, eclipsing the mark of 203 set in 2005 by the High Desert Mavericks.
"Still has got to our ballclub and this young man hit 20-plus homers in the South Atlantic League, so he's no stranger to the long ball," JetHawks manager Chad Epperson said. "He's been in the middle of our lineup for a few games. He's producing, so it wasn't a surprise."
Lars Anderson extended the record in the third with a three-run blast, his first in the Cal League after hitting 10 in 124 games with Greenville. Christian Lara also launched a three-run shot, his seventh, in the fifth before Daeges highlighted an 11-run sixth with a grand slam, his 19th homer.
"You just sit there and go wow," Epperson admitted. "The numbers you look at, you're in awe of them. But it's the time [the players] put into it, the grind they go through. This has been the most consistent ballclub I've been around."
The slam capped a huge night for Daeges. One of three JetHawks on the Cal League postseason All-Star Team, he walked and scored on Anderson's homer and delivered a two-run triple in the fourth. His previous high was five RBIs for short-season Lowell on July 30, 2006.
Lancaster's other All-Stars are center fielder Bubba Bell and first baseman Aaron Bates, both of whom have been promoted to Double-A Portland. Bell, Epperson said, set the tone for the record-breaking year by hitting .520 with five homers and 18 RBIs in the opening week of the season.
"It really helped us out. It was a big part of it," said Epperson, who was named Cal League Manager of the Year. "What that young man did in half a season was pretty remarkable. Everybody gets into the power numbers, but this guy drew walks, he didn't swing at bad pitches. He hit in the leadoff spot and put up those kind of numbers and sparked us. It spread like a wildfire.
"We've been down so many times this year, nine-run deficits, eight-run deficits. But they feel like they're never out of it. They've come back and erased those deficits."
While Sunday's 20 runs were a season high, the JetHawks (39-24) have scored at least 10 an astounding 39 times. In addition to homers, they lead the league in batting (.296), runs (1,039), doubles (336) and walks (631).
"Our philosophy is to get good pitches to hit, stay gap-to-gap," Epperson explained. "It's real easy for teams to come into this ballpark with the wind blowing the way it does and the elevation and sit here and go long. ... But we're not trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark, we're just trying to square it up. And we're getting rewarded for that."
Among the rewards were four-homer nights for Bates on May 19 against Lake Elsinore and Brad Correll on June 23 against High Desert. Until Bates, no one in Cal League history ever hit more than three homers in a game.
"Those kind of nights, the stars gotta connect. There are so many dots that have to line up. And fortunately for those guys, they did," Epperson said. "They'll never forget the nights they had here. It's just one of the special moments that we've had."
Daren Smith is a staff writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.