The Spokane Indians offense had been struggling of late, managing just two runs in their past two games as they split a pair against the Vancouver Canadians.
With a new opponent came a sudden and pronounced burst of production – helped a bit by a lackadaisical defensive gaffe.
Kellen Strahm went 3 for 4 with a walk and the Indians exploded for eight runs in the fourth inning to down the Eugene Emeralds 8-1 in the first of a three-game series at Avista Stadium on Saturday night.
The big inning was helped along by a dropped routine fly ball with two outs and the bases loaded. All three runners scored.
The Indians (14-9) have won eight of their past 10 games and maintained a one-game lead over Tri-City for first place in North Division second-half standings. Eugene fell to 13-10.
“Our wins have come in different ways. Tonight it was just that one big inning, but there was some really good at-bats throughout that inning,” Indians manager Kenny Hook said. “And then you know, there were a couple walks and then errors and that led to a big inning, but there was some good at-bats early in that inning to put the pressure on them and get us in that situation.”
It was scoreless heading to the bottom of the fourth when Eugene starter Chris Clarke was relieved by lefty Didier Vargas. The Indians took full advantage.
Luis Asuncion led off with a single and went to second after Jonah McReynolds drew a walk. Scott Kapers kept a grounder inside the third-base bag for a double and Asuncion scored.
Jake Hoover bounced to third, but Josue Huma bobbled it and missed tagging Kapers in the basepath. Huma went home with the throw, but McReynolds beat it, putting the Indians up 2-0. Hoover stole second with one down, then Cristian Inoa walked, loading the bases.
Derwin Barreto lofted a fly to medium-deep left and Kapers hustled home from third to make it 3-0 with two down.
Eugene manager Lance Rymal lifted Vargas in favor of Jake Reindl, who was greeted with a single by Strahm – his third hit of the night in four innings – to load the bases again. David Garcia then drew a base on balls, forcing in the Indians’ fourth run of the game.
Asuncion, in his second at-bat of the inning, lofted a routine ball to center for what should have been the third out, but Fernando Kelli dropped it. All three runners – who were going on the play with two down – scored to make it 7-0.
McReynolds followed with a single to right, plating Asuncion to cap the scoring in the inning.
“You’re glad it happened, because it’s one of those things you just can’t take for granted,” Hook said of the dropped fly ball. “It can happen at any time and it’s tough on their part, but it was good on our part to not take it for granted, and we scored all three of those runs because of it.”
Indians starter Leury Tejada was coming off his shortest outing of the season, a 1 2/3 inning stint against Tri-City on Aug. 10. He went four scoreless innings and allowed one hit and two walks with four strikeouts.
Jeifry Nunez (4-0, 2.91) went 3 2/3 innings to earn the win. He allowed one earned run on five hits. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out five.
“I love watching Nunez pitch – the tempo, the energy that he brings,” Hook said. “It was a really good combination how that worked out, scoring all those runs and then having him scheduled to come in the top of the next inning. He works quick and kept that momentum going defensively for us.”
Clarke, the Chicago Cubs’ fourth-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, had not allowed an earned run in his previous three starts while striking out 12 over eight innings. He went three shutout innings and allowed a hit and a walk with one strikeout.
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