The Spokane Indians who came out to play Thursday didn’t look like the Indians that fans have seen all year. They came out nervous. They chased bad pitches. They struck out 11 times.
And that’s just what Salem-Keizer wanted.
“We really wanted to get off to a strong start in these playoffs, and we figured if we could take Game 1 that’d be huge,” said Volcanoes starter Andy Reichard, who led his team to a 5-3 victory to open the best-of-5 Northwest League championship series at Avista Stadium. “Because we’ve kind of been labeled as underdogs in this series, Spokane having such a good season.”
It was more important because Spokane built a lot of momentum heading into the opener, winning eight of its last 10 regular-season games and boasting a 52-25 record.
Salem-Keizer (40-36 regular season) swooped into Avista Stadium and stomped out that momentum.
“Well, good pitching will make teams look a little out of sorts, and Reichard pitched well,” Salem-Keizer manager Tom Trebelhorn said.
Reichard pitched 51/3 innings, allowing four hits and no runs. The Indians mustered just six hits all night, nearly powerless against Reichard’s fastball and hook.
One exception: Spokane slugger Joey Butler went 3 for 4 against the Volcanoes. But with minimal support from his teammates, it did little good.
Another exception was the bottom of the seventh, when the Indians closed to within two runs. With Reichard out and reliever Dan Runzler in, Jared Bolden walked and eventually scored when David Paisano hit a blooper that dropped into right field.
Eric Fry followed with a two-run homer over the right-field wall to make it 5-3.
“We started hitting the ball a little late,” Fry said. “It kind of hit us that we’re actually in the championship game. It didn’t really feel like a championship game today. But I guess it’s hitting everybody, hitting everybody in the locker room.”
Among those who came out cold was Wilfredo Boscan, the Indians’ star starting pitcher. Coming into Game 1 with a league-best 9-1 record, he fell flat in his start.
Leadoff batter Vladimir Frias reached on a throwing error by shortstop Jake Kaase to start a whirlwind. Boscan walked Conor Gillaspie then beaned Francisco Peguero.
Mike Loberg then hit what looked to be a double-play ball, but Kaase fell on the second-base pivot and Frias scored. A single by Jose Flores brought in Gillaspie, and the Volcanoes were up 2-0.
“Boscan struggled, he struggled early. I mean, it was obvious,” Spokane manager Tim Hulett said. “It seems like he was a little nervous and he struggled with his command. And when he struggles with his command, that’s an oddity for him, because he’s always throwing strikes.”
The top of the third was another uncharacteristic inning for Boscan. He gave up a single to Peguero and a double to Loberg, then was unable to keep them at bay. They both strolled in as Flores and Johnny Monell each grounded out.
In five innings, Boscan gave up seven hits and three earned runs. He had one strikeout after averaging 4.7 strikeouts per game in the regular season.
“Wilfredo, he just had a bad game. I mean, that’s the worst I’ve ever seen him pitch,” Fry said. “But he’s still throwing hard, just needs to get the pitches over the plate.”
Meanwhile, the Indians’ offense was blowing what few opportunities it had. In the bottom of the sixth, Spokane got a little under Reichard’s skin when Paisano walked and Butler doubled to left field, putting runners on second and third.
Trebelhorn pulled his ace. Joseph Edens, after walking Dennis Guinn to load the bases, struck out Matt West and Doug Hogan to retire the side.
The Indians take the field at 1:30 p.m. today for Game 2 of the series at Avista Stadium. It is the last game in Spokane of the season.
“You know, baseball’s a game where if you take care of business on any given day, you can play with anybody,” Trebelhorn said. “And certainly they’ve established a better record than we have over the course of the year. But on any given day, we’re pretty good.”
Salem-Keizer star Mike Loberg went 2 for 3 with two runs and an RBI. … Reichard got the win and Edwin Quirarte got the save.