Mother Nature brought the lightning. Tom Murphy brought the thunder.
And the Spokane Indians, on the brink of putting together their longest winning streak of the season, got soaked instead.
The Tri-City Dust Devils rallied against Spokane’s bullpen in each of the last three innings – the last time in the middle of a lightning storm and downpour – and stunned the Indians 8-6 in front of 4,542 fans Tuesday night at Avista Stadium.
It was Murphy’s ninth-inning double to the wall in center field that knocked in the go-ahead runs and put the brakes on a Northwest League losing streak that had reached eight games, though the Dust Devils had taken some minor steps to reverse the mojo earlier in the day.
“When you keep losing and losing, you feel like you have to change something up, and more than likely you don’t,” said Murphy, who had kept the pressure on Spokane with a leadoff home run in the eighth.
“Today we kind of had a day to relax and take some light toss instead of batting practice, and it felt like a day off even though you had to play a game. And we wore blue jerseys – but we’d tried that earlier in the losing streak and it didn’t work.”
If the Dust Devils felt refreshed from the cut-down workload, that energy didn’t reveal itself early. Derek Jones, the former Washington State Cougar, did get the visitors off to an early lead with a second-inning home run, but that was matched – and then some – by Spokane’s new slugging find, Joey Gallo, in the bottom half.
Gallo, the Texas Rangers’ first-round draft choice who beat up Arizona Rookie League pitching, rocketed a shot well over the 50-foot scoreboard in right-center for his third home run of the year – and his second of 400-plus feet in three nights.
Then the Indians put together a three-run fourth behind a single by Royce Bolinger that extended his NWL-leading hitting streak to 22 games and a two-run double by Joe Maloney.
More impressive was Spokane’s defense, in particular second baseman Nick Vickerson stabbing a chopper up the middle and back-picking T-C’s Miguel DeLeon off third base, and right fielder Preston Beck nailing Richard Pirkle with a laser to short-circuit a leadoff double in the fifth.
If only Spokane’s bullpen had been able to clear the same bar.
Shawn Blackwell allowed both the runners he inherited from starter John Kukuruda to score in the seventh, trimming Spokane’s lead to 5-4. The Indians added an insurance run in the eighth, but Murphy took closer Josh McElwee over the fence just inside the left-field foul pole, helping it with a little body English.
“I almost missed first base because of it,” he said.
Then the weather turned nasty, and the Dust Devils nastier. McElwee got himself in trouble hitting Pirkle with a pitch – one of four by the Indians this night. Vickerson dropped a throw on Pirkle’s steal of second, and McElwee sailed a wet fastball to the backstop to move the runner to third – where he easily scored the tying run on Rosell Herrera’s single.
And left McElwee (1-2) to deal with Murphy.
“It seemed like they had their best hitter up,” Spokane manager Tim Hulett said, “every time they needed him up.”
Colorado’s third-round draft pick rewrote a few records at the University of Buffalo and rewrote the early script of this one with his double to the wall.
“He’d thrown me six straight sliders and I wasn’t expecting to get a fastball – especially after hitting the homer off a fastball,” he said. “So I was just sitting slider looking to go up the middle with it.”
The Indians then had to sit through a 20-minute lightning delay before getting their last chance, but T-C closer Seth Willoughby handled them without incident.
Spokane’s last home stand resumes tonight with the opener of a five-game series with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.