Spokane Indians fans finally got a taste of what their Northwest League-leading team can do. It had been a while.
The offense woke up and smacked the ball all around Avista Stadium on Thursday in Spokane’s 7-6 victory over the Boise Hawks.
The win snapped the Indians’ four-game losing streak at home and was the first home game since Aug. 7 in which they mounted at least seven runs.
“Ain’t going to find much more of an exciting game than that game tonight,” Spokane left fielder Mike Bianucci said.
Bianucci, a .327 hitter, went 3 for 4 with two runs batted in. He contributed to two three-run innings – the fourth and fifth – with clutch singles to shallow center field.
But his contribution wasn’t just on offense.
In the top of the ninth, with the Hawks (36-27) down by one run, Bianucci chased a line drive off the bat of Drew Rundle and recorded the second out with a diving catch.
For the Indians (43-20), it was a good thing he snagged it. Josh Vitters, the next batter, smashed a double off the center-field wall, but Indians closer Ryan Schlecht struck out Ryan Keedy and sealed the victory.
Schlecht registered the save, though he gave up three hits plus a run in the eighth.
In the ninth, it was up to him to shut down Boise, Spokane’s challenger for the NWL East Division title.
“That’s a great win. It was really a well-played game for us,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “Very well-pitched game for us, other than that one inning.”
That one inning was the sixth, when Boise scored four runs off Justin Gutsie.
A usually solid reliever with a 4-0 record, Gutsie gave up four hits and allowed Boise to close its deficit to 7-5.
Boise got one more run with some small ball in the top of the eighth, moving Kyler Burke around the bases on a fly ball and a groundout.
“They’re a lot like us. They swing the bat,” Hulett said of the Hawks. “The game’s not over until you finish that last out in the ninth inning.”
Boise outhit Spokane 10-9.
Jason Ogata was the only Indians player who didn’t reach base, going 0 for 4.
Spokane’s Jared Bolden never put the ball into play, but he walked twice and scored once. Matt West reached twice on fielder’s choices and also scored.
“We’ve been swinging it OK, it’s just tonight was a better night,” Hulett said. “We swung the bat better with guys on base – put a lot of pressure on (Boise) in those middle innings.
“We had guys on and we executed a lot. We didn’t necessarily get that many hits.”
The explosive offense, a trademark earlier in the season, is something Indians fans are hoping to see in the remaining 13 regular-season games. About midseason, Boise passed Spokane as the league’s best-hitting team, batting .288 to Spokane’s .272 average (heading into Thursday’s game).
The victory increased Spokane’s lead over Boise in the East to seven games. The Indians’ magic number also is seven – they need seven wins or seven Boise losses to clinch the title.
Spokane has seven games left against Boise this season.
“One thing we’re going to have to do, play them every game,” Bianucci said. “The games seem to come down to one run in the bottom of the ninth, last inning. But those games are fun to play in. That’s what makes baseball fun.”
The Indians and Hawks are tied at 1 in this three-game homestand. The tiebreaker is tonight at 6:30 at Avista Stadium.
Ogata was pulled after a pitch hit him on the hands on a foul ball. Replacing him at second base was shortstop Kyle Higgins, who until Thursday was on the disabled list for a back injury. Hulett said Higgins had just been activated and said Ogata was just a little banged up. … Spokane reliever Corey Ragsdale, who pitched one inning, is a converted shortstop. Pitching in just his third game, he gave up no hits and struck out one. In his prior two innings, he had accumulated an ERA of 13.50. Now it’s 9.00. … Starting pitcher Neil Ramirez is off a rehab program after injuring his shoulder earlier this season. In his first start of more than two innings at home since the injury, he allowed just one run on three hits, striking out three.