WICHITA, Kan. | Mike Massaro didn't want to picture himself in the same spot as last year's retiring players, spending their last days in front of their lockers.
Once Drew Martinez caught the final out in center field Saturday, Massaro quickly painted a new picture.
"I remember it like yesterday, sitting in those chairs in the locker room, just happy to get back to .500 for skip," the veteran outfielder said. "This is not what we want to be about.
"It wasn't good enough. The goal from that point on, all year long was to get it done. From Day 1, this was the message we sent. The guys brought a total team effort from Day 1 and I couldn't be more proud."
The RailCats beat the Wichita Wingnuts 6-5 Saturday for their first American Association Championship and the first title for the Gary team since 2007.
The title run was orchestrated by Massaro and fellow outfielder Adam Klein.
When Cristian Guerrero was signed in March, that brought a heavy hitting piece to the puzzle. When Alain Quijano was signed as a starting pitcher, he quickly received a message on Facebook from Massaro.
"Mike Massaro sent me a message through Facebook saying that anything less than a championship wasn't good enough," Quijano said.
Massaro, Klein and Guerrero had a hit each in the title game and Klein scored the game's first run.
"For Mike, and Adam and Cristian, for that group, I'm so happy," manager Greg Tagert said, choking up.
The RailCats reached the championship series in five straight seasons in the Northern League. Their last playoff appearance was 2010, their last season as a Northern League team.
Rookie Morgan Coombs took the win, his second of the postseason, allowing two earned runs and striking out four in 7 1/3 innings.
"I'll tell you who deserves all the credit in the world for this run is Morgan Coombs," Quijano said. "I don't know the numbers, but the second half of this season, it's been Morgan Coombs and Stephen Hiscock. I don't know what he did, but I'd like to ask him. It was special to watch, and those guys being young guys, there's no one that has more fight in them."
The RailCats took a 5-0 lead before the Wingnuts scored two in the seventh inning. With a one-out triple in the eighth, Zac Mitchell was sent home as the winning run on a sac fly for a 6-2 lead.
Then the heart of the Wingnuts order chipped away. With three runs on two hits in the bottom of the eighth, the RailCats saw the lead slip to 6-5.
Marco Gonzalez closed the game, striking out one and leaving a runner stranded for his second save in two days.
"I guess for this club against that club, maybe with the number of one-run games we've had this season, I don't know if it's fitting, but what an accomplishment," Tagert said. "I know how difficult it is, believe me. When you have some success like we did in '05 and '07, it becomes such a stranglehold on every player that comes in because you have the manager preaching to them how important it is to meet that standard.
"This is going to go down as the greatest single accomplishment I've seen from a ballclub in all my years of managing, for the things we've talked about all year: the dynamic of the ballclub with the younger players and the number of games we've played under these kind of conditions. Obviously I won't say it's the best RailCats team ever, but pretty close and the best accomplishment I've ever seen."