The Tri-City Dust Devils showed why they are leading the Northwest League’s East Division, taking advantage of Spokane closer Justin King’s inability to throw strikes to score twice in the top of the ninth and defeat the Indians 2-1 before 3,650 at Avista Stadium on Wednesday night.
“They are in first place for a reason,” said Spokane manager Tim Hulett. “It’s generally pitching and defense, though they swing the bats and run the bases pretty well, too.”
And his Indians, 9-16, showed why they are tied for second, eight games behind the Devils (17-8).
They were undone by their inability to make contact – the Indians struck out 10 times against four Tri-City pitchers and managed just six hits, three in the eighth when they scored their lone run – and King’s wildness.
“In defense of (King), he hadn’t pitched in five days,” Hulett said of the right-hander who came in with a 1.64 earned run average and left with it over three. He walked four of seven hitters and threw just nine strikes in 29 pitches. “It’s just been one of those kinds of weeks where he didn’t get any work. … He’s been our guy all year.”
The only Tri-City hit in the inning was Joe Sanders’ high bouncer over third baseman Tommy Mendonca with pinch-runner Shane Lowe on first and none out.
Lowe, running for Kevin Clark, who drew an inning-opening walk, promptly scored on King’s wild pitch while Ben Paulsen was at the plate.
The left-handed hitting Paulsen, the Colorado Rockies’ third-round draft pick, signed last week and was playing in his first professional game. Up until the ninth it was memorable only in that he had struck out three times.
But he was able to lift a 3-1 fastball to short left and Sanders sprinted home ahead of Aja Barto’s throw.
Spokane took a 1-0 lead into the ninth thanks to a small-ball powered rally.
Jared Prince led off the eighth with a single. Clark Murphy bunted pinch-runner Kyle Rhoad over to second. Denny Duron’s single to right moved Rhoad to third, bringing lead-off hitter Joe Bonadonna, already with two hits, to the plate.
Bonadonna’s bunt up the first-base line was perfect. Rhoad scored and Bonadonna was safe at first. Cody Podraza followed with a fielder’s choice force out at second, moving Duron to third with two outs.
Podraza took off as winning pitcher Rhett Ballard (3-1) faked to third. By the time Ballard turned and ran, Podraza was headed to second. The throw was late and Podraza looked as if he slid around the tag, but umpire Atsu Yoshioka called him out.
Charles Ruiz picked up his sixth save in seven chances, striking out two before getting Mendonca to line out.
The Indians, who have a four-game losing streak, will face the Devils again tonight.
“At some point we’ve got to start winning those games,” Hulett said. “I like this team.”