Brett Nicholas left his dad a present for Father’s Day.
But even he admits the ones he delivered at Avista Stadium will be better received.
“He’s back in Arizona and I’m sure he was listening to the game,” the younger Nicholas said after his eighth-inning home run tied Sunday afternoon’s matchup with the Salem-Keiser Volcanoes and his one-out line single to center in the ninth lifted the Indians to a 4-3 win before a Father’s Day crowd of 4,090.
“I left him a gift, but I’m sure this will outdo the gift I gave him,” said Nicholas, a Phoenix native in his second season with the Indians out of the University of Missouri.
The Volcanoes, who won Friday’s season opener before Spokane bounced back Saturday, took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. But with one out, catcher Jorge Alfaro drove a Raymundo Montero 1-2 count fastball off the top of the left-field fence for a long single – left fielder Chucky Jones got on the ball quickly and Alfaro has catcher’s speed – and up stepped Nicholas, who moved to first base this year after catching 37 games for Spokane last season.
Looking fastball – “He had kind of fallen into a pattern, throwing first-pitch fastballs to the first two guys,” Nicholas said, “So I was going up sitting on that pitch.”
He got what he expected and the left-handed hitter drove it high to left-center, some 20 feet to the right of Alfaro’s blow and 10 feet further.
The two-run homer was his first of the season.
“He’s a young kid, so I can’t let him show me up; I’ve got to prove to him he’s still the young guy,” Nicholas said, smiling, about outdoing Alfaro, who has replaced him as the Indians’ main catcher.
But Nicholas’ bat needs to be in the lineup somewhere, said manager Tim Hulett, so the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder moved to first in the spring.
“I’ll still catch some,” Nicholas said. “We’ve got a lot of young talent behind the dish in this organization, guys like Jorge Alfaro, and they’re going to get a lot of time, so it’s just a way for me to get more at-bats.”
Though the home run was Nicholas’ third hit of the day – to go with a second-inning single and a double in the sixth – he wasn’t done.
Neither were the Indians in the eighth, loading the bases after Nicholas’ blast. But they were unable to push across the go-ahead run, striking out for the sixth and seventh time with a runner in scoring position.
Francisco Mendoza (1-0) pitched a perfect ninth – he had given up the Volcanoes’ third run with a walk and two singles in the eighth before striking out the side – and turned it over to the offense.
For the first seven innings that offense was mostly shortstop Hanser Alberto, with two singles, Nicholas – he scored the first run on Ruben Sierra’s second-inning double – and a bunch of strikeouts – 18 total, including 10 against S-K starter Reinier Roibal in just four innings.
“It seems like when there’s nobody on base our offensive game plan gets a little fuzzy,” said Hulett of the whiffs.
“As a team we’re very young,” said Nicholas. “So it’s going to take some getting used to the crowd. A lot of these guys haven’t played in a stadium (before).”
One of those young guys, 18-year-old Alberto, led off the ninth by pulling a double down the left-field line against reliever Brennan Flick (0-1).
After a strikeout, Alfaro hit a routine ground ball to third that John Eshleman booted, putting Indians at the corners.
With the infield in, Nicholas stroked a 1-2 fastball to center and Spokane was 2-1 to start the season.
“We’ve got a lot of talent on this team,” he said. “It will be a fun summer.”
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