Royce Bolinger is swinging a hot stick, and has been for 21 consecutive games – and he doesn’t mind at all if you mention that streak.
Just don’t ask him about it.
So that leaves only the bat in question to provide any answers, and it did just that for the Spokane Indians on Monday night – Bolinger’s leadoff single in the eighth inning triggering the winning rally and Joe Maloney’s booming triple being the decider in a 4-3 victory over reeling Tri-City at Avista Stadium.
The Dust Devils have lost eight in a row, and the Indians have certainly been there, done that: they had a 10-game slide earlier this season. And if they still aren’t setting the Northwest League on fire, the Indians have made some incremental gains in coming up with the timely hit or the defining pitch.
“We’ve been in a lot of dogfights this year and haven’t come out on top in a lot of them,” Bolinger allowed, “but we’ve learned some lessons, and I think we definitely capitalized on some of their mistakes tonight.”
And the visitors, well, didn’t capitalize.
Even after going down two runs on Maloney’s triple, the Dust Devils kept the drama rolling by stringing together three hits in the ninth – one a lazy bouncer up the middle by Yafistel Roja that caromed off second base, the last a double to the wall by Kyle Von Tungeln that cut the Spokane lead in half.
Roja was red-lighted at third on that hit with just one out, but the Dust Devils couldn’t surf the momentum. Indians reliever Alec Asher (2-3), who’d struck out Anthony Aguilera with a 94 mph fastball to start the inning, got Rosell Herrera on some 80 mph junk, and then induced Tri-City’s best hitter, Tom Murphy, to pop up a 2-1 breaking ball for the final out.
That was the last piece of quality pitching on a night that produced a lot of it.
Spokane starter Eric Brooks – 2-0 with nine shutout innings in previous outings against Tri-City – gave up just two runs on seeing-eye softies in the second inning. Reliever Abel De Los Santos followed with three sharp innings that had manager Tim Hulett encouraged.
“He’s struggled his last four or five outings, but tonight it looked like he had the zip on his fastball again,” Hulett said of the 19-year-old righthander. “When he has that, it makes his off-speed stuff more effective.”
The Indians pulled even with two runs in the third, Gabriel Roa driving in one with a double and then scoring when Patrick Cantwell’s grounder burrowed under the glove of T-C third baseman Alec Mehrten.
Bolinger’s hitting streak – longest in the NWL this year – continued with an opposite-field single in the fifth in a brief rally that went nowhere. But in what’s become typical during his hot run, Gonzaga University’s contribution to this year’s Indians didn’t just settle for keeping the streak alive. He slapped a hard liner just beyond the glove of Roja to open the ninth and moved to second on a wild pitch.
One out later, the Dust Devils intentionally walked Joey Gallo after having watched him drive in seven runs the night before. That put Maloney on the spot with two out, and his smash off Matt Flemer (2-2) just eluded a diving Von Tungeln in right-center.
“At first, I didn’t think he had a shot,” said the designated hitter, “but when I came around first I took a peek up and saw him dive and said, ‘Please don’t catch it.’”
Maloney had looked grim striking out his first two at-bats, but got some advice from Hulett and coach Oscar Bernard that helped him with “some timing and seeing the ball better instead of just ambushing everything.
“One of our issues all year has been struggling driving guys in – getting guys on but not getting the big hit. We’ve been better lately and if we keep it up, we’ll score some runs.”