The Spokane Indians were the best team in the Northwest League North Division all season. If they are going to advance out of the divisional playoff series, though, it’ll have to come on the road.
Logan Driscoll delivered an RBI single in the top of the 12th inning and the Tri-City Dust Devils held off the Indians to win Game 1 4-3 at Avista Stadium on Wednesday.
Game 2 is Thursday at 7:15 p.m. at Gesa Stadium in Pasco. Game 3, if necessary, will be in Pasco on Friday.
The Indians went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position. They had runners in scoring position in the eighth and 11th innings with less than two outs, but couldn’t find the difference-maker.
“I mean, playoff baseball, you’ve got to be able to execute,” Indians manager Kenny Hook said. “We weren’t swinging very well or did much until late but we had plenty opportunity and maybe, you know, didn’t get them in when we had those opportunities.”
In the 12th, TC put runners at first and second with one down against reliever Dylan Bice. He struck out Jordy Barley but Driscoll singled to right center to drive in pinch-runner Tre Carter from second and Reinaldo Ilarraza moved up to third on the throw.
Bice recovered to strike out Kelvin Melean, but the damage was done. Bice took the loss, despite striking out five over two innings.
Heriberto Hernandez, who tied it at 3 with a solo home run in the seventh, led off the bottom half with a walk off Jake Sims. But Osleivis Basabe grounded into a double play and Cristian Inoa bounced out to end the 4-hour, 21-minute affair.
Hook said he won’t have to pump up his young team to rebound for Game 2.
“I think they know,” he said. “We’ll just respond, like all season. You know, we’ve responded well after we’ve lost games all year – and we responded well going on the road. So that’s why it’s a series.”
Derwin Barreto and Kellen Strahm led off the eighth with back-to-back walks off reliever Chris Lincoln. Blaine Crim hit one off the end of his bat to first, which moved the runners up and TC walked David Garcia intentionally to bring up recently-recalled Davis Wendzel with the bases loaded.
Wendzel just missed a home run down the line foul before striking out, then Luis Asuncion popped up to end the budding rally.
Alexander Ovalles led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk but the Indians couldn’t do anything with it.
David Garcia led off the 11th with a line-drive single and was replaced by pinch-runner Obie Ricumstrict. Wendzel bunted him up then Luis Asuncion lined a single into right.
Ricumstrict had to hold to make sure it fell in, then overran third base and got caught in a rundown for the second out. Ovalles struck out to strand Asuncion at second.
Indians starter Jeifry Nunez walked a pair in the first inning but Wendzel, in his first home game in Spokane, made an immediate impact, starting a 5-4-3 double play to get out of the jam.
After breezing through the second, Nunez found more trouble in the third – and it started with the bottom of the order. No. 8 hitter Luke Becker walked and went to third when Matthew Acosta’s bouncer got through the right side and into right field.
Nunez then lost leadoff hitter Reinaldo Ilarraza on a full count to load the bases. Jordy Barley jumped on an 0-1 fastball and smacked it into the left field corner for a single and two runners scored. Driscoll followed with an RBI single to right to make it 3-0.
Nunez recovered to get the next three batters – two via strikeout – to limit the damage.
Werner Leal, named a year-end NWL all-star, entered in the fourth and picked up a couple of strikeouts in a scoreless frame.
Meanwhile, the Indians could get nothing going against Tri-City starter lefty Jason Blanchard, a ninth-round pick of the San Diego Padres. He allowed single base runners in the first, second and fourth, and exited with two down in the fourth when he hit his pitch limit.
Right-handed reliever Wen-Hua Sung came on for TC and got Wendzel to line out to end the inning.
The Indians new third baseman made another terrific play in the sixth, making a backhand grab of a ground ball and a twisting throw form the baseline to get the lead runner at second for the final out of the inning.
The Indians got the bats going in the bottom half. Jake Hoover led off with an infield single and went to third on Derwin Barreto’s double off the left field wall. Kellen Strahm grounded to second, but a run scored and Barreto moved up to third.
TC brought in lefty Dan Dalles to face Blaine Crim, who smashed a hard grounder to third for the second out. But Dallas uncorked a wild pitch and Barreto scampered home with the Indians second run.
Hernandez tied it with one swing in the seventh.
The 19-year-old, recently called up from the Arizona Rookie League, pinch-hit for Jonah McReynolds against Dallas with two down. Down in the count 3-2, he clubbed the payoff pitch high over the left field wall for his first Northwest League home run.
“That was a big hit,” Hook said. “I just liked the matchup there. So just kind of a gut feeling type thing.”
The Dust Devils put runners on the corners against Nic Laio with two down in the eighth. Hook called upon Joe Corbett and the hard-throwing righty struck out Jack Stronach looking for the final out of the inning.
Leal went three scoreless innings in relief. He gave up two hits and no walks and struck out five. Laio gave up two hits with a strikeout over 1 2/3 scoreless innings and Corbett struck out three in 2 1/3 perfect innings.
“Excellent,” Hook said of the pen. “You know there when we went to Corbett at in that situation, it’s like ‘Hey, he’s been the best out of the pen in those situations.’ So and he came in and got that huge out.”
South side: Liover Peguero hit an RBI ground-rule double in the bottom of the ninth and the Hillsboro Hops walked off the visiting Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 2-1 in the South Divisional playoff series. Tyler Holton struck out 10 over six innings and combined with Nick Snyder on a one-hitter.
Award season: Before the game, Hernandez – recently recalled from the Rangers’ AZL championship team – was awarded the AZL player of the month of August in a pregame ceremony. He hit .329 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in the month.
Scheduling note: The Indians announced that if they reach the NWL championship series next week, Game 3 and Games 4 & 5 (if necessary) are scheduled for Avista Stadium on Sept. 10-12. All games start at noon.
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