The calendar says July, but the game had pennant race tension all over it.
Of course, in the Northwest League, pennant races come in fractions.
And with the first half-season racing to a coda, the Spokane Indians snatched a tiny advantage Thursday night as Trever Adams’ ninth-inning RBI single beat the Tri-City Dust Devils 5-4 in a sensational opener of their three-game series at Avista Stadium.
The teams entered the night tied atop the East Division.
A sweep would give the Indians the first-half title and a playoff spot for the second year in a row – two games remain beyond this series – but this one looks more likely to be settled by scratch-and-claw.
“We all know what’s on the line,” said starter Will Lamb, who gave the Indians five scoreless innings. “We have reminders up all over the locker room of what last year’s team did and the first half they had, and we’re just trying to go from there.”
Both teams came from behind once to tie the game – the Dust Devils doing it most dramatically when Leonardo Reyes crushed a solo homer in the top of the ninth off Jerad Eickhoff (1-0), a newcomer just off the plane.
But the Indians responded and the Devils – as they did much of the night – helped them along.
Reliever Rhett Ballard (2-1), a sturdy submariner, opened the bottom of the inning with a strikeout, but then hit both Zach Cone and Brett Nicholas. With a deceptive move, Ballard looked to have Cone picked off second but instead threw the ball into center field.
Adams came through with his second walk-off hit in four nights.
“As a hitter, you have to prepare yourself for that bottom of the ninth,” he said. “Tim (Hulett, Indians manager) always says, ‘Load the bases up and see what happens.’ If you can get the runner to third with less than two outs, you’ve got a pretty good chance.”
It took a while to get either team to get a runner to third – five innings to be exact.
If Lamb was good, Devils starter Tyler Gagnon was even better, at least until he walked Drew Robinson and gave up a single to Jorge Alfaro to lead off the fifth. An error – one of three by Tri-City second baseman Timothy Smalling – loaded the bases and Hirotoshi Onaka’s fly ball to center broke the scoreless tie.
Tri-City reversed the momentum on Jayson Langfels’ three-run homer in the seventh, but the Indians got the runs right back in some strange circumstances.
Alfaro’s line shot hit reliever Kenneth Roberts in the hand and forced him from the game, and an infield single by Onaka and another Smalling error scored the runners he left for Rafael Suarez, who then surrendered the go-ahead in the eighth on two singles and Robinson’s sacrifice fly.
“We really had to scratch,” Hulett said. “They really know how to pitch with guys in scoring position. Tonight was odd for them – they threw the ball away and gave us an opportunity. You’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself to make a pitch and Trever had a great piece of hitting.”
And the Indians understand just what kind of opportunity they have here.
“Our goal at the start was to win the first half,” Adams said. “We have a hellacious road schedule in August (just eight home games).
“We play much better at home for some reason and we’re trying to win as many here as we can. It would be great to get it done right now.”