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Vancouver holds off Indians in slugfest

Forget the fact that the starting pitchers, both considered to be the ace on their respective staffs, came in with a combined earned-run average of less than 4.00.

Anyone hoping to witness a tidy, 2 ½-hour pitchers’ duel at Avista Stadium went home Friday night deeply disappointed following visiting Vancouver’s messy 9-7 Northwest League baseball win over the Spokane Indians.

The anticipated matchup between Vancouver’s Jesse Hernandez and Spokane’s Victor Payano turned out to be a dud with neither pitcher lasting four innings.

And it was Vancouver (13-9) that was best able to react to such adversity in a ratty battle of East Division rivals that was witnessed by a standing-room-only crowd of 6,876 and plagued by six errors, 13 walks, five wild pitches and a two hit batters.

The Canadians, after getting to Payano (1-2) early, added three runs – two earned – off reliever Chris Hanna in the fourth and held off a furious ninth-inning rally by Spokane (12-10) to earn the victory.

The Indians, who outhit Vancouver 11-7, blew a couple of excellent scoring chances midway through the game and pushed across a couple of ninth-inning runs before Braxton Lane flied out with the bases loaded to end the game.

Afterward, Spokane coach Tim Hulett discussed the evening’s scruffy start, which saw each team score four runs during a seemingly interminable opening inning that featured seven hits, four errors and three walks – and lasted 41 minutes after the first five batters for each team reached base, with the first four scoring.

“Those first four or five innings took forever,” he said. “When you get guys on base, the game really slows down at this level.”

Mercifully, the Indians’ relief pitching was solid, as Hanna and Jose Monegro combined to retire 14 straight batters during one stretch.

“Hanna and Monegro both came in a did a great job of throwing strikes in a tough situation to keep the game close,” Hulett said. “We felt like we had an opportunity to get back in the game all along. It wasn’t lost in the last inning, but probably in the fifth and sixth innings when we had opportunities to score and didn’t execute with a guy on third and two outs.”

Payano, who came in with a ERA of 2.65 and 20 strikeouts in the 17 previous innings he had worked, battled control problems from the start and made a throwing error that led to one of Vancouver’s runs.

The 6-foot-5 left-hander lasted only 2 2/3 innings and was yanked following Garrett Maines’ two-run homer that put the Canadians up 6-4.

The big hit against Payano in the first was a two-run single by Kevin Patterson.

“He seemed a little tentative out there tonight,” Hulett said of Payano, who gave up only one hit in six innings during his previous outing.

“He was really aggressive in his last game and pounded the ball. But tonight he looked like he was aiming it a little and not quite as aggressive.

“And, unfortunately, he didn’t have command of his fastball.”

Hernandez, whose ERA was a stingy 1.29 coming in, issued hits to the first four batters he faced but settled in after serving up a two-run homer to Brett Nicholas, whose mammoth blast – his team-high fourth of the year – carried some 400 feet over the center-field wall.

“It was a change-up I was sitting on,” said Nicholas, who, along with teammate Jorge Alfaro, had three hits on the night. “I knew (Hernandez) had a good one, and I was looking for it. Fortunately, I got some barrel on it, and it got out of here.”

When asked about Spokane’s ninth-inning comeback that included four hits, Nicholas added, “It doesn’t matter if it’s 11-1 or 8-7, we’re going to battle every single inning.

“We really played a pretty sloppy game out there, and for us to still have a chance in the ninth inning to get away with a win, it was huge. It just shows how much character and heart this team has.”

The same teams meet tonight at Avista at 6:30.

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