Maybe it was the late-afternoon sun, maybe it was the grind of playing 27 consecutive days, or maybe it was the prospect of finally getting three days off.
Whatever happened on Sunday, it affected the Spokane Indians more than the Hillsboro Hops, who capped a dominant five-game Northwest League series with a 12-6 victory during a 93-degree day at Avista Stadium.
Kevin Cron and Stryker Trahan hit fifth-inning homers off Indians starter Nick Gardewine (5-3) and Steve Nyisztor went 4 for 5 as the Hops (9-4 second half, 31-20 overall) won the series 4-1 by outscoring the Indians 39-29.
The Indians won their first six series at Avista this season, but their struggling pitching staff allowed 55 hits during the five-game set against South Division first-half champion Hillsboro.
After the Indians struck for three runs in the bottom of the fifth to cut the Hops’ lead to 4-3, the mood at Avista soured. Hillsboro scored two runs in the sixth for a 6-3 lead and three in the eighth for a 9-3 edge, both times rallying with two outs.
“Yeah, it was just one of those things,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “When you give up those kinds of innings it just kills everything, and it’s a shame because we have that kind of team that can score runs.
“The guys coming out of the pen had a tough time today. They seem to be able to get the first two outs, and all the damage was done with two outs. You have to be better than that.”
Hillsboro has won four consecutive series. Spokane has dropped five of its last six games at home and 14 of 21 games overall.
Spokane’s troubles began one week after the league’s last day off (July 7). The Indians were 22-8 heading to Boise and now limp into the All-Star Game break at 29-22. The North first-half champions are in last place in the second half at 4-9.
Catcher Marcus Greene, one of Spokane’s eight representatives to Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Eugene, predicts a quick turnaround.
“I honestly think it’s going to be fine starting from the first game back here,” Greene said after finishing 4 for 5 with two RBIs. “A couple of days off will be very good for our pitching staff. It’ll be good for everybody to get a couple of days’ rest and after that I think we’re going to come back strong and show everybody what we’re playing for and who we are.”
Hillsboro led 1-0 with one out in the fifth when Gardewine walked Nyisztor and the Indians’ bullpen started stirring. Cron immediately blasted a two-run homer to center field. Spokane stayed with Gardewine, who struck out Grant Heyman before surrendering Trahan’s long homer that hit the light pole in right.
“When (Gardewine) gets in trouble, he thinks, ‘Harder, harder, harder,’ and that elevates the ball,” Hulett said. “It gets him into trouble, so there are a lot of lessons for him from that game.”
Seth Spivey, who finished 3 for 4 to raise his average to .349, and Greene had RBI singles during Spokane’s three-run fifth. Hillsboro bounced right back in the sixth against Darrell Hunter, taking advantage of two walks, Hunter’s throwing error, a double steal and Nyisztor’s two-out single for a 6-3 lead that held up.
Spokane completed its long homestand 3-5.