So far, the Spokane Indians are showing what it means to be a second-half team.
And just like turning up the volume earlier in the season would have benefited the Indians, who finished last in the first-half standings, Spokane waited too long to make noise in a battle for first place on Saturday night.
Instead, it was the Boise Hawks who broke an early tie in the fifth inning and continued to extend their lead in the later innings in a 6-2 win over the Indians in front of a sold-out crowd of 7,012 at Avista Stadium.
With the victory, Boise (20-29 overall, 7-4 second half) moved into sole possession of first place in the NWL East Division standings. Spokane (18-31, 6-5) will have a chance to even things up again when the teams meet tonight for the final of the three-game series at Avista, and for the final time during the regular season.
“We need to play them like we did on Friday (a 6-5 come-from-behind win for Spokane) … it’s more about playing better earlier in the game and we didn’t close the gap tonight,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “You get a little closer and you don’t have to score three or four runs late in the game.
“We got a little sloppy defensively and we weren’t throwing strikes like we had been. If you don’t do those two things, it’ll come back to haunt you.”
As it turned out, both things did haunt the Indians – beginning with the three fielding errors Spokane made.
Tied 2-2 after the Indians scored solo runs in the second and third, Boise took the lead for good in the fifth inning after Shawn Blackwell replaced Connor Sadzeck on the mound for Spokane.
Sadzeck pitched four innings and struck out seven, walked three and scattered three hits, giving up two runs (one earned), and Blackwell (1-2) pitched 2 1/3 innings and picked up the loss, allowing the go-ahead run to score on a wild pitch.
Blackwell allowed four hits and three runs (two earned), striking out two in the process.
“Connor had a tough start and gave them a couple of easy runs early in the game because we weren’t throwing strikes,” Hulett said. “And our relief guys let them score a lot of runs, too, whether it was a walk or a passed ball that advanced runners – we had five or six of those which added up to a lot of runs. We needed to put pressure on them earlier in the game.”
And to compensate for the bullpen’s off-night, that pressure needed to come from the plate – which the Indians had plenty of opportunities to accomplish. They had to tying run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh before Royce Bolinger grounded into a double play to end the inning, and again in the eighth before Saquan Johnson fouled off five pitches on a full count and eventually struck out swinging.
In all, the Indians left 10 runners on base and were 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
“We just needed the big hit tonight and we couldn’t come up with it … so it looks like we played a bad game,” Hulett said. “But we look like a baseball team. We’re very competitive in every game right now, which is nice to see. It didn’t look like that in the first half, as you know.”