It wasn’t the Indians’ most graceful win, but it was a win nonetheless.
Injuries plagued both teams in Spokane’s 7-4 win over the Tri-City Dust Devils on Thursday at Avista Stadium. The Indians (47-23) won their fourth consecutive game and remained six games ahead of Northwest League East Division title contender Boise.
Tonight the Indians open a six-game face-off with Boise with the division title on the line. They are the last games in the regular season – the first three games in Boise, then three back in Spokane. The Indians, who are 2-4 against the Hawks this season, will capture the title with just one win in the final six.
“But, you know, we don’t look at it as just one win,” said Indians manager Tim Hulett, who was named the NWL’s manager of the year Thursday. “Because teams that win championships win because they have momentum. And we’ve started to build the momentum – the last game in Tri-City, these games here.
“It’s a good feeling. I don’t want to go in there, win the first game and lose the next five. I want to win them all.”
But, meanwhile, the Indians’ lineup has unexpectedly thinned, and Thursday didn’t help.
In the first inning, starting pitcher Matt Nevarez and left fielder Mike Bianucci went down.
Nevarez, who recently had Tommy John surgery, had his arm tighten in the first inning, according to Hulett. The Dust Devils capitalized, using a triple, a single and three walks for two runs.
One of the singles – Scott Robinson’s – took Bianucci out for good this season. Bianucci dove for the line drive and caught it, but his hand bent back and the ball popped out. He was taken to the hospital with a broken hand, Hulett said.
Bianucci, who joined the Indians midseason, was batting .316 and had developed into one of Spokane’s big weapons at the plate. Add to that the loss of second baseman Jason Ogata last week, and the Indians are hurting going into the homestretch.
Yoon-Hee Nam came in after just six batters to relieve Nevarez, taking over the mound when the Dust Devils had gained significant momentum.
“It wasn’t a disaster. I mean, other than the injuries – that’s a disaster,” Hulett said. “But Nam came in and kept it at two. That was big.”
From then on, it was baseball as usual for Spokane – a rocky first few innings, until the Indians warmed up. It wasn’t until Doug Hogan’s two-run homer in the fourth inning that they lit up on the scoreboard.
“That’s how we play,” Spokane outfielder Eric Fry said. “We play like we’re going to win all the time, so we just play lazy. Then it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re playing a game.’ So, about the fourth inning we’ll come back and be warmed up, ready to play.”
Fry came off the bench to replace Bianucci and ended up leading his team with a 3-for-5 night. He finished with two singles, a double and two runs.
“I didn’t have my game cleats on,” Fry said. “I had to go back in and get my game cleats on. Wasn’t warm, wasn’t ready. Didn’t think (Bianucci) was going to get hurt.
“We could use him in the lineup, but things happen.”
In the bottom of the second, Tri-City shortstop Erik Wetzel got injured trying to field a bullet off the bat of Hogan. Wetzel left the game.
Spokane finally broke ahead for the lead in the eighth, capitalizing off a slew of Dust Devils mistakes. A fielding error by Wetzel’s replacement, Thomas Field, opened the floodgates for a two-out rally.
David Paisano reached first on the error, and Fry’s single got Paisano to third. Joey Butler hit a line drive that dropped in front of Tri-City center fielder Charles Blackmon. Blackmon tried to dive for the catch and lost track of the ball, earning himself an error and sending Fry home.
Butler scored when Dennis Guinn’s grounder ricocheted off third baseman Ryan Peisel’s mitt, and the Indians had their three-run lead.
Spokane finished 8-4 this season against the Dust Devils (34-36).
Hogan’s home run was the first long ball a Dust Devils starter had given up in just more than 71 innings this season. … Two Indians were selected to the Northwest League all-star team, pitchers Wilfredo Boscan and Tim Murphy.