There may be a more cruel way to have a sure-fire playoff berth yanked away, but it's hard to fathom. The Spokane Indians were one strike away from wrapping up the Northwest League's North Division first-half title on Sunday when Everett's Corey Simpson hit a two-out, two-run homer on a 0-2 pitch in the top of the ninth inning. Everett's 3-2 win left Spokane and Vancouver tied for first place at 24-13 with one game left in the season's first half. If there's any consolation for Spokane, the only combination Monday that could stop the Indians from making the playoffs is a Spokane loss and Vancouver win. Anything else -- both win, both lose, Spokane wins and Vancouver loses -- and the Indians advance. Read story
The Indians had everything they wanted entering the ninth inning on Sunday. Luke Tendler's RBI single in the bottom of the eighth had given them a 2-1 lead and closer Johnny Fasola was on the mound.
For those who haven't followed Fasola this Northwest League season, he's become an Avista Stadium crowd favorite because he throws strikes and he wastes little time doing it. Entering Sunday's game, Fasola had struck out 19 and walked none in 12 1/3 innings while featuring an earned-run average of 0.73.
That ERA went down for the first five Everett batters Fasola faced. Fasola struck out the side in the eighth and retired the first two batters in the ninth on a groundout and fly out.
Kyle Petty's two-out bloop single to right field might have been caught for the final out, except the Indians were playing deep to prevent a double. The next batter, designated hitter Corey Simpson, looked overmatched as Fasola worked the count to 0-2 and threw a breaking ball that Simpson fouled into the stands.
Indians manager Tim Hulett called the deciding pitch a hanging breaking ball -- Simpson labeled it a slider -- and the result was a two-run homer that deflated the Indians and their crowd of 4,448.
"We’ve been losing by one (run) for the past two weeks and it feels great to come up with a win now," Simpson said.
Indians starter Richelson Pena (4-1) pitched his heart out, but Hulett knew his day was over after seven innings.
"It was time to get Fasola in there," Hulett said. "He’s a fresh arm. It was the first time (Pena) had been in that territory, throwing seven innings.
Until the unexpected homer, the Indians had been 13-3 at Avista Stadium and owned the same record against divisional rivals.
Spokane has led the division all season. Sunday was the first time since June 16 that the Indians haven't held the lead by themselves.
"It’s still in our hands (Monday)," Hulett said. "We come out here and win a game tomorrow and it doesn’t matter what the other team does."