Several years ago the Spokane Indians' scorekeeper, an affable man with a wry sense of humor, announced that he had one big wish in his job: to witness a 1-0 Northwest League game. He never got his wish, but maybe he noticed what happened the last two nights between the Indians and Tri-City Dust Devils. Tri-City blanked Spokane 1-0 on Friday and the Indians turned the tables Saturday with a 1-0 shutout at Avista Stadium. Read story
Indians manager Tim Hulett was stumped when it came to recalling any back-to-back 1-0 games during his eight seasons with the team. Hulett's first reaction was relief that Saturday wasn't a complete repeat of Friday.
"I was just glad we were on the other side of it this time," Hulett said.
It figured to be a low-scoring game with two of the league's top starters going head to head. Tri-City's Helmis Rodriguez, who checked Spokane on five hits and one earned run during a July 9 victory, lowered his earned-run average to 2.16 and is just one tick (2.15) behind the league co-leaders from Vancouver, Miguel Castro and Jairo Labourt. Spokane's Richelson Pena lowered his ERA from 3.20 to 2.89 and ranks fifth in the league.
"Both of those guys are really good pitchers," Hulett said. "They’ve been doing the deal, throwing a lot of strikes to hitters and both of them pitched well tonight."
Hulett knew one run could affect the outcome, so he called for a drawn-in infield with one out and Wilson Soriano on third base in the fourth inning. Pena struck out the next batter, negating the need to cut down a runner at home on a ground out, and ended the inning with another strikeout with the infield playing at normal depth.
The Indians stranded runners at second base in the second and third innings, and at second and third when Diego Cedeno struck out to end the fifth. Cedeno was ahead in the count 3-0 and took a close strike at 3-1.
Spokane appeared to be headed in the same direction after Jose Trevino doubled to left field to lead off the sixth and took third on a wild pitch. Tri-City drew in its infield with one out and Luke Tendler at bat, and Trevino couldn't score when Tendler grounded out on a 3-4 play. But shortstop Josh Morgan, in his 10th game with Spokane, ended the scoreless night with a solid single to left.
"We had three or four opportunities where we had guys on second base and two outs," Hulett said. "It was just a matter of getting that big hit ... and that’s what Morgan did. He’s been a nice addition to our club. He’s really swung the bat well for us."
Erik Swanson, who relieved Pena in the seventh, faced a predicament with runners on the corners and nobody out. A strikeout and 4-6-3 double play took care of the Dust Devils' final threat.
"(Swanson) got (in trouble) quick and you’re thinking, 'OK, just settle in,' because he has good stuff," Hulett said. "And he came back and did a fantastic job. We turned an unbelievable double play right there, with (Kiner-Falefa) going to his left and making a good throw and Morgan hanging in there and turning it for the out on first on a pretty good runner."
"I love coming in for those situations," Swanson said. "Especially watching (Pena) throw six shutout innings just makes me want to go out there that much more and compete for him, my teammates and myself and not give up any runs. That’s what I did tonight."
Pena could only watch and wait.
"The last couple of games I’ve been getting out of the game with a one-run lead or losing by one run," Pena said through interpreter Jose Jaimes, the Indians' pitching coach. "I thought about it again, but I had trust in my teammates and thought (Swanson) was going to figure it out. And he did it."
The Indians are 22-9 against North Division rivals such at Tri-City this season. Spokane has two regular-season games left against the Dust Devils, Sunday afternoon and Monday night.
The Indians are 20-10 at Avista Stadium, with seven regular-season games left on their home field.
The Dust Devils (11-12) are tied for first place in the North with Vancouver with the second half of the season down to 15 games. Spokane (10-13) and Everett are one game back. The second-half champion will meet first-half champion Spokane in a best-of-3 divisional series starting Sept. 2 on the second-half champ's field. Spokane will host at least one game, Sept. 3, and the third game, if necessary, on Sept. 4. If the Indians also win the second half, the team with the next-best overall record will be Spokane's opponent. Vancouver holds an 11-game lead over Tri-City in that category, with 15 games left.