The Indians needed this game. They needed to assert their prowess. They needed to dominate.
That’s what they did. Spokane attacked early and quickly and took a commanding lead in a 7-0 Northwest League victory over the Tri-City Dust Devils on Tuesday at Avista Stadium.
“One of the good things about it is that it makes a statement,” said Spokane shortstop Jake Kaase, who went 2 for 4 with three RBIs. “The other teams that we’re battling for a spot in the playoffs, they come to see that we’re here to play and we’re the top dogs.”
They needed this game because lately they have been struggling – struggling, at least, for the 2008 Spokane Indians. Spokane (45-23) started the season hot, going 10-4 in June and 22-7 in July. In August, they are just 13-12.
The whole time, the Boise Hawks – Spokane’s challenger in the East Division – have been staying within striking distance of the Indians.
But now, in crunch time, the Indians are doing what they need to be doing. They’re keeping atop the division – Boise lost Tuesday to Yakima, falling to six games back again. The Indians’ magic number for clinching the division is three.
Spokane manager Tim Hulett, however, still doesn’t like to dwell on clinching the East Division pennant.
“It’s the old adage – one game at a time, game by game,” he said. “You can only get in trouble looking past the next game.”
Tuesday’s victory was just the second shutout this season for the Indians, a team that has occupied the first-place spot all summer. Spokane’s defense reigned, turning three double plays and committing no errors – a rarity for the Indians.
Starting pitcher Neil Ramirez threw seven strikeouts in four innings, giving up three hits. The 2007 first-round draft pick has started to re-emerge as a formidable force on the Indians’ roster after struggling with an injured shoulder through most of the season.
But, because he exceeded the pitch count Tuesday, Ramirez was pulled after four innings and wasn’t eligible for the decision. (A starter must pitch five innings to record a win.) Reliever Juan Peralta (2-2) got it for his two innings of work.
“(Ramirez) was very good,” Hulett said. “He was behind the count a little bit at times.”
Ramirez had the backing of the Indians’ offense. Leadoff batter Jared Bolden got things started in the first inning with a single to left field, followed by a Kaase double to the same spot that scored Bolden. Kaase eventually scored Spokane’s second run on Joey Butler’s single.
The Indians came right back out in the second inning. Five batters got hits, including a double by Eric Fry. The offensive strike netted four runs, capitalizing off Tri-City starter Sheng-An Kuo’s shaky start.
Tri-City dropped to 34-34.
The three-game homestand continues at 6:30 tonight.
Spokane second baseman Jason Ogata (.244) is out for the rest of the season with a broken finger. The Oregon State star was hit in the hand by a pitch during the Indians’ loss to Boise on Friday. … Spokane’s David Paisano left the game early because of an ongoing leg injury. Because the Indians were already up six runs, Hulett decided to let Paisano rest – the team’s recent bus ride and the chillier weather was affecting the minor injury, Hulett said. … Eugene (35-33) and Salem-Keizer (38-30) are in the midst of a six-game head-to-head battle for the Northwest League’s West Division title. Salem-Keizer has gone 3-1 in the series, extending its lead over Eugene to three with a 9-4 victory Tuesday night.