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Dust Devils knot Indians for first place

The Spokane Indians entered Friday’s Northwest League game needing a win to all but clinch the East Division’s first-half playoff berth.

The Tri-City Dust Devils, still alive for the postseason berth, moved back into a first-place tie with Spokane behind a 4-2 victory in front of 4,875 fans at Avista Stadium.

As if the quest for the first-half berth needed more drama, the final game of the three-game series tonight is critical. Clinching that berth is still well within the Indians’ reach, but they’ve left themselves little wiggle room.

“So do something easy? We haven’t done that all year, why start now?” Spokane manager Tim Hulett said.

The Indians (19-16) had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the ninth and one of their top hitters, Brett Nicholas (.349), at the plate. But Nicholas bounced into a 1-2-3 game-ending double play.

The Dust Devils (19-16) secured the win by scoring three runs with two outs in the fifth thanks to four straight hits. Tyler Massey, who has had some good games against Spokane, had a two-run double and Jared Simon followed with a run-scoring double.

“It was a game where we didn’t get the big hit,” Hulett said. “We had a couple of opportunities that we squandered earlier in the game. It would have been nice to get one or two (runs) there early.”

And getting big hits has been a trend for the Indians recently.

Spokane took a 1-0 lead in the second when Drew Robinson, who entered with a .134 batting average, hit a solo home run over the center-field fence.

Tri-City came back to knot the score at 1 in the fourth when Timothy Smalling hit a 3-2 pitch out.

Smalling took off to first thinking he had secured a walk when the count reached 3-2 before he lined an 88 mph offering from starter Nicholas McBride over the left-field fence.

“He (McBride) was fortunate all night long getting out of innings,” Hulett said. “He had a couple of double plays early in the game to get out of some innings and just couldn’t get another ground ball (in the fifth).”

The Indians pulled within 4-2 in the seventh when Zach Cone knocked in a run on a groundout. With runners on second and third, Nicholas hit a deep fly to the wall in left that was hauled in by Jaron Shepherd.

“Everybody is aware of where we’re at,” Hulett said. “We don’t talk about it much. It’s really all about going out and preparing for that game and playing the game.

“You can’t do anything more special. If you’re trying to do something more special, you’re not preparing for the rest of the games all year long. The more you accentuate it, the more pressure you put on these guys. They’re pretty loose and they’re going out there and just getting after it.”

The Indians will send out hard-throwing righty David Perez (0-2, 7.04 ERA) tonight.

“He’s pitched well,” Hulett said, acknowledging Perez hasn’t picked up a win so far. “Some of it is just running out of pitches, because he’s on a pitch count. He’s a strikeout pitcher so he goes deep into counts. He just hasn’t been in the game when the game’s been won. He’ll give us a good five innings.”

Tri-City leadoff hitter Brian Humphries went 5 for 5 and scored a run to pace the offense.

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Baseball players in minors to lose minimum wage protection

UPDATED: 11:53 a.m.

Minor league baseball players who make as little as $5,500 a season stripped of the protection of federal minimum wage laws under a provision in government spending legislation. The provision appears to pre-empt a lawsuit filed four years ago by three players alleging Major League Baseball and its teams violate the Fair Labor Standards Act and state minimum wage and overtime requirements for a work week they estimated at 50-to-60 hours.