Spokane manager Tim Hulett was at a loss following Thursday night’s riveting 11-7 win over Northwest League rival Eugene to determine who had the biggest night – Ruben Sierra, Jr., whose two-out grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth inning decided the issue, or Leslie Vancil, the lucky fan who won a new Ford F-150 pickup courtesy of Sierra’s game-winning blast.
“I’d say it was a pretty big night for both of them,” a smiling Hulett said, as the post-game celebration raged around him.
And it was hard to argue his assessment considering all of the craziness that took place at Avista Stadium, where Vancil was among the many in an announced crowd of 4,070 that stuck around to the witness the game’s thrilling end.
Sierra, the son of former Major League standout Ruben Sierra, had three hits on the night, including a two-run homer in the eighth inning, and drove in a career-high six runs as Spokane (1-2) picked up its first win of the second half of the NWL season.
It was his ninth-inning blast that most of those in attendance will remember – especially Vancil, who was the beneficiary of a long-running promotion sponsored by Gus Johnson Ford, in which on one designated night each summer a fan picked in a random drawing wins a new truck if a Spokane player hits a bases-loaded home run.
Despite his bloodline, Sierra did not seem like a candidate to become the Indians’ comeback hero. The sixth-round draft choice of the Texas Rangers in 2009 came into the game hitting a meager .221, but took some advice his father gave him during a recent phone conversation and put it to work in a big way.
“I had really been struggling,” Sierra said. “So I called my dad, who had watched us play against Boise, and asked him what I was doing wrong.”
His father’s advice?
“He told me I was pushing too much from the back side, and that I should wait a little bit more on the ball so I could see it better, and that’s what happened tonight.
“I was watching that ball so good all game long.”
Sierra’s two-out slam in the last inning capped a methodical comeback that was staged after Indians starter David Perez hit a batter with the first pitch of the game and then walked the next three he faced before being mercifully relieved.
A three-run double by Eugene’s Matthew Colantonio gave the Emeralds (2-1) an early 4-0 lead they stretched to 6-1 in the fourth.
But the Indians responded by scoring four runs in the fifth on two-run singles by Edwin Garcia and Yefri Castillo, and added two more in the eighth on Sierra’s first home run to tie the game at 7.
“We’ve been in the hole a lot after the first inning this year,” Hulett said, when asked about his team’s persistence. “We’ve talked about not playing the scoreboard, but playing the game instead, and our guys did a great job of putting up a couple here and couple there to make it a big night for us.”
Spokane finished with 18 hits, including three each from Garcia, Zach Cone and Sierra.
Reliever Jose Monegro (3-0), the last of the four pitchers Hulett used, picked up the win. Eugene’s Chris Wilkes (3-1) was saddled with the loss.
The same teams meet again tonight at 6:30 in the third game of their five-game series.
Normally division championships are celebrated with champagne showers in the locker room. The Spokane Indians settled for cheering and high fives on a crowded bus.
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