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Tri-City tops Spokane to take over first place alone

In the critical finale of the Northwest League series between Tri-City and Spokane, the visiting Dust Devils’ pitching handcuffed the Indians’ usually productive hitters Saturday and kept a sellout crowd of 6,823 at Avista Stadium from having much to cheer about.

Tri-City broke an East Division first-place tie with a 3-1 victory and took a big step toward securing the first-half playoff berth with two games remaining before the second half begins.

If Spokane (19-17) is to secure the playoff berth, it will have to do so at Boise – where the Indians were swept in a three-game series earlier this summer. The Indians will also need some help from Yakima, where the Dust Devils (20-16) go for three games.

Despite the Indians’ struggles at the plate the last two games, they gave themselves an opportunity in the ninth while trailing 3-0.

With two runners on and two outs, Drew Robinson singled to center to knock in a run. But the game ended abruptly when Guillermo Pimentel got caught between second and third base and was eventually tagged out trying to get back to second.

“That’s not a good way to end a ballgame,” Spokane manager Tim Hulett said. “I’d like to say it’s inexperience, but (Pimentel) has been around. He just got caught up in the excitement of the game. It happens.”

Tri-City took a 2-0 lead in the third, doing the damage with two outs. The first run came when Indians starting pitcher David Perez allowed Brian Humphries to steal second and third. Moments later, Humphries scored on a wild pitch.

Tyler Massey continued his success against Spokane, knocking in the second run with a double.

In the bottom of the inning,  Spokane had its first serious opportunity to score when the Indians loaded the bases on singles by Rougned Odor and Hanser Alberto and a walk to Zach Cone. But Tri-City starter Christian Bergman (3-3) coaxed a foul pop fly for the final out.

Spokane didn’t threaten again until the ninth.

Bergman pitched efficiently, going seven innings and allowing just four hits and one walk while striking out six.

Reliever Nelson Gonzalez, who had pitched six scoreless innings previously against the Indians, got Spokane in order in the eighth. He would have secured Spokane’s first shutout had Pimentel not reached on an error.

“They’re in the driver’s seat and we’re going to need some help from Yakima,” Hulett said. “We’ve still got to go take care of business. We’ve got to win (two games) to even have a shot at it.”

Hulett praised Bergman. Spokane leadoff hitters were 0 for 7 against him.

“Sometimes you’ve got to give the other team credit,” Hulett said. “Their starting pitcher did a fantastic job.

“He commanded the strike zone, he moved the ball around and he didn’t give us anything to hit.

“We had one opportunity with the bases loaded and two outs and we didn’t get the big hit.”

After the trip to Boise, Spokane returns home for five against Eugene. Of the Indians’ final 40 games, only 16 are at home, and 21 of 29 are on the road in August.

“We’ll have to do it on the road,” Hulett said. “We’ve got a lot of road games, especially in August. We haven’t shown that we can be a good road team. That will have to change.”

Hulett didn’t want to talk about the second half of the season before addressing a couple of issues.

“We’re not going to look at the second half yet,” he said. “We’re not going to pay much attention to that until the third game in Boise. We need to get better starting pitching. I think we’re lined up. Guys are starting to throw the ball well.”

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