The Spokane Indians could lose their next 39 games and still win the Northwest League championship.
Strange as that sounds, it’s true. The Indians (21-16) clinched a postseason berth Sunday night by defeating the Tri-City Dust Devils 7-0 in the second game of a doubleheader at Avista Stadium.
The victory, coupled with Boise’s 8-2 loss at Yakima earlier in the night, gave Spokane the East Division’s first-half title. The 38-game first half ends tonight, and the second stretch of 38 games begins Wednesday.
That doesn’t mean Spokane will ease up on the gas.
“You can’t go on a big losing streak and not play well and expect to turn it on when the playoffs are here,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said.
Spokane has until Aug. 2 to decide if it wants to host the opening game of the best-of-3 division series, which starts Sept. 6. If Spokane chooses to travel (to Boise, Pasco or Yakima) for Game 1, the second and (if necessary) third games would be in Spokane on Sept. 7-8.
Spokane (15-6 at home) didn’t look like a playoff team in late June, but the Indians have won 20 of 29 since with a balance of pitching, hitting and defense.
Andrew Doyle, making just his second appearance for the Indians, started the second game and threw 3 1/3 shutout innings.
Doyle, protecting a 1-0 lead, loaded the bases in the fourth with one out. Hulett summoned Tim Stanford (3-0) from the bullpen to face Chandler Laurent, whose grand slam in the opener wiped away a late Indians lead and helped T-C (17-20) to a 10-3 win.
“We knew Doyle was limited in his pitch count,” Hulett said. “We were hoping to get four innings out of him and we knew (Stanford) would be the first guy we went to.”
Stanford struck out Laurent on three consecutive pitches and escaped the jam when Jared Simon grounded out to second.
“You gotta go right at them, pitch the best you can, and not be afraid of the hitter you’re facing,” Stanford said.
Stanford, who lowered his ERA to 1.00, also pitched hitless ball in the fifth and sixth while Spokane began piling up runs.
Spokane left fielder Jared Hoying went 2 for 4 with two RBIs, two stolen bases, and one of the Indians’ four doubles.
In the night’s first seven-inning game, the Indians were six outs away from clinching a postseason berth when Laurent interrupted with his grand slam to left in the sixth.
Spokane was rolling along with a 3-0 lead behind Randol Rojas’ five strong innings.
The Indians scored two in the third, highlighted by Hoying’s homer to dead-center field. The 400-foot-plus shot, Hoying’s sixth home run of the season, tied him for the NWL lead and gave him homers in three consecutive games.
Brett Nicholas added an RBI double that bounced on the warning track in right in the fifth.
Rojas’ night ended after Jeremiah Sammy reached first base on second baseman Santiago Chirino’s throwing error and Bryce Massanari followed with a single to right.
Reliever Francisco Mendoza (2-1) had nothing but trouble, walking Leonardo Reyes to load the bases before uncorking Laurent’s grand-slam pitch on a 1-0 count.