Something happened to the Spokane Indians when they took an 11-day break from home.
They became the first-place Spokane Indians.
That designation still fits after Friday night’s 5-1 victory over the Hillsboro Hops in the Indians’ first home game since Aug. 4.
Spokane, fresh off a 6-2 road swing and in the midst of a six-game winning streak, leads the Northwest League’s North Division with 16 games left in the regular season. The Indians are 12-10 for the second half of the season, two games ahead of first-half champion Everett and three up on Vancouver.
“We’re doing a lot of laughing about it, because we never thought we would be here,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “The guys are grinders. We’re in games and I love the way they’re playing.”
“(Postseason is) in the back of our mind when people start talking about it,” said Indians starter Collin Wiles (2-4), who pitched a season-high six innings to earn his first win since June 22.
“If we can take care of it game by game, then anything else will take care of itself.”
The Indians have their next seven games at home, four more against the Hops and three against Tri-City, which is 1-8 against Spokane this season.
The Indians also had a six-game winning streak from June 30 to July 5.
Joe Jackson and Evan Van Hoosier gave Wiles plenty of early offense, Jackson with a towering three-run home run to right field in the first inning and Van Hoosier with a two-run lined shot to left in the second.
Both had hit just one homer this season, in both cases on the road.
“You have to give that one to our offense, coming out in the first two innings and getting five runs,” Wiles said. “You’re just pitching after that. You’re just having fun and trying to get us in the dugout as fast as you can.”
“We don’t play many games like this,” Hulett said. “For the most part, we’re playing one-run games.”
The Indians are 12-7 in one-run games.
Wiles allowed four hits and one earned run, striking out three and walking none. It was his third superb outing over his past four starts.
“We normally just try to get him through five (innings) because of the pitch count, but he was very good at throwing strikes tonight,” Hulett said. “He threw six innings even with his pitch count.”
Travis Dean pitched two hitless innings, striking out three, and Keone Kela worked a hitless ninth.
The Indians’ roster has been shuffled since the team’s last home game. Pitcher Alex Gonzalez, drafted in the first round by Texas in June, has been promoted to Myrtle Beach (S.C.) of the Carolina League. New to Spokane are pitchers John Niggli and Ricardo Rodriguez and outfielder Jordan Akins, who has two homers in nine games. “It’s really nice to have the (cleanup) guy be 6-5 instead of 5-6,” Hulett said. “He really brings a threat to the table for us.”