For a split second, the Spokane Indians, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and the fans at Avista Stadium thought Fernando Vivili had done it again.
But unlike Monday, when Vivili hit a winning three-run homer in the ninth inning, the long fly ball he hit Wednesday with the bases loaded in the ninth curved foul.
Volcanoes reliever Eury Sanchez, victimized by Vivili’s blast on Monday, went away from the fastball that was nearly deposited to left field for a grand slam, and went back to breaking balls. He struck out Vivili swinging on a 1-2 pitch, and got pinch-hitter Juremi Profar on a pop foul to first base to preserve S-K’s 3-2 Northwest League win.
“(Vivili) had his one pitch and he just hooked it,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “It was pretty far fair when he hit it and I thought, ‘Yeah!’ and then when it got out there it was hooking pretty hard.”
“When (Vivili) hit that ball, I was going, ‘There’s just no way that’s happening again,’ said Volcanoes right fielder Austin Slater, whose three-run homer in the third inning provided the difference. “But luckily for us, it went foul.”
The ninth-inning drama came after the Indians’ offense struggled against S-K starter Keury Mella (1-1) and Andrew Leenhouts.
Mella surrendered back-to-back singles to open the game, including Diego Cedeno’s RBI to center field to score Eduard Pinto, then retired 14 consecutive batters before Vivili’s two-out walk in the fifth.
Leenhouts relieved in the sixth and held Spokane hitless until Seth Spivey led off the ninth with a single to left. Jose Trevino hit a potential double-play ball to third baseman Ryder Jones, who bobbled it to put runners on second and third. Luke Tendler’s RBI single to right scored Spivey, cut S-K’s lead to 3-2, and ended Leenhouts’ night.
Sanchez struck out Josh Morgan on a 2-2 pitch and walked Isiah Kiner-Falefa to load the bases for Vivili.
“For (Vivili) to go up there and be ready for the fastball and jump all over it, I was really happy to see that,” Hulett said. “I thought that was a good game plan on his part.”
Richelson Pena (5-5), making his final regular-season start for Spokane, struck out eight and retired the final 11 batters he faced. His one big mistake was a 0-2 fastball to Slater, who hit his first professional homer on his 100th at-bat with S-K.
“It was supposed to be a high fastball, really just to set up the next pitch, and (Pena) had thrown it earlier to the same guy and didn’t get it up,” Hulett said. … “Really, that was the game.”
“My first at-bat (a first-inning strikeout), he threw a lot of fastballs,” Slater said. “(On the second), he went curveball, fastball, then tried to sneak a fastball up in the zone. It was just a reaction thing, to be honest with you.”
The Volcanoes snapped Spokane’s three-game winning streak and kept their hopes alive for a postseason berth. With five games left in the regular season, including games today and Friday at Avista, S-K (37-34 overall, 19-14 second half) may not catch Hillsboro (22-11) for the South Division second-half title but could pass Boise (39-32) for the second-best overall record and a playoff berth. The Volcanoes end the season with three games at Boise.
Spokane (38-33, 13-20), the North’s first-half champion, will open the playoffs Tuesday on the road. Vancouver (17-16) holds a one-game lead over Tri-City (16-17) in the North’s second-half race.