Just as Spokane Indians manager Tim Hulett was giving a metaphorical hat tip to his bullpen on Sunday evening, his players gathered around the dugout to celebrate their latest triumph.
One night after putting together what Hulett called their best game of the season, four Indians pitchers struck out half of the batters they faced and combined for a one-hitter, as Spokane set up a battle for first place this week with a 3-0 Northwest League victory over the Yakima Bears in front of 4,543 fans at Avista Stadium.
“Winning is always more fun than losing – so I don’t know if they’re having more fun because they’re winning or if they’re winning because they’re having more fun,” the Indians skipper said.
“I think it’s a little of both,” said Indians third baseman Ryan Rua.
If they keep this up, winning might become old hat.
Starter Connor Sadzeck, who had given up just a pair of hits in 11 innings at home this season heading into the game, struck out seven and walked four before he was relieved by Richard Alvarez in the fifth.
Alvarez threw three innings, struck out four and picked up the win, allowing the lone hit for the Bears (3-3) in the top of the fifth. Joe Burns replaced Alvarez in the eighth – striking out two of the three batters he faced – and Josh McElwee earned his sixth save, striking out one in the ninth.
“It was a great game tonight and you can’t say enough about the pitching staff,” Hulett said. “Connor didn’t have his best stuff but he pitched out of the couple situations he was in and then we had a really great follow-up by Alvarez, Burns and McElwee.
“This is a pretty good hitting team and we shut them down, so I give all the credit to the bullpen tonight.”
Some credit is due to the Indians’ offense – even if it was packed into one inning.
The Indians (16-28 overall, 4-2 second half) scored all three runs in the bottom of the sixth, beginning with a lead-off single to left from shortstop Gabriel Roa.
Catcher Patrick Cantwell followed with a line drive single to right, putting two runners on with no outs for second baseman Cam Schiller. Schiller watched two pitches go by from Bears’ starter Daniel Watts, who had a league-low 0.94 ERA heading into the game. Schiller slipped a bunt down the third-base line for a single to score Roa.
An erratic throw from Watts got by Yakima first baseman Wagner Mateo, and Cantwell and Schiller moved up an extra base.
“They’ve been running a pretty good bunt defense and Schiller’s a pretty good hitter, so we were going to let him swing,” said Hulett. “But then we got ahead in the count in a pretty good bunting situation, and it paid off. That was a big play.”
That “big play” was followed by Royce Bolinger lining out to right. But when right fielder Michael Lang threw the ball home to keep the pressure on Cantwell at third, the throw got away and allowed Cantwell to score and Schiller to reach third. Rua followed with an RBI double for a 3-0 lead.
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