At one point of the Northwest League season, the Spokane Indians had a 1-4 record in games that left-hander Derek Thompson started and a 15-3 record when someone else started.
But in a must-win game on Monday, Thompson took the ball, owned the mound and clinched a postseason berth for the Indians.
Thompson (3-4) baffled the Everett AquaSox for seven innings, scattering three singles and striking out a season-high 10 as the Indians (25-13) clinched the NWL North Division first-half title with a 3-0 win at Avista Stadium.
“(Thompson) pitched well in a couple of those (early) games,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “We just played poorly behind him. You need some wins to feel good about what you’re doing and he felt good about tonight. The last couple of outings he’s figured it out.”
“At the beginning (of the season) I had troubles, but pitching coach (Jose) Jaimes helped me with my mechanics a lot,” Thompson said. “Arm slot was my big issue and we worked on it from there.”
Vancouver (25-13) finished tied with Spokane for first place, but the Indians earned the first-half playoff nod on the first tiebreaker, a 4-2 edge over the Canadians this season. Vancouver closed the first half with five consecutive wins and eight in their final nine games. Before Monday, Spokane had dropped five of its last seven games.
But Spokane led the division the entire first half, thanks to starts of 6-0 and 10-1.
The Indians can point to their record at Avista and against the North, in both cases 14-4, as other main factors in clinching the berth.
“I feel good for the guys,” Hulett said. “They went through a little minislump here late in the first half, but it’s good to see that they got it done.”
“We still had the confidence,” Thompson said. “We don’t really worry about others. We just focus on our team.”
The Indians gave Thompson early run support. Isiah Kiner-Falefa led off the first with a single to right, moved to second on a groundout and scored on Marcus Greene’s single to center.
“I’ve given (Greene) the freedom to hit away on 3-0 probably 40 times in the two years he’s been here and he’s never swung at it,” Hulett said. “Tonight he swung at it and drove in a run.”
For insurance in the fourth, Jose Trevino hit a one-out solo homer just fair to left – his league-high eighth – and Fernando Vivili doubled home Juremi Profar from first base.
The Indians will begin the playoffs on Sept. 2 on the road. Game 2 will be in Spokane on Sept. 3 and Game 3, if necessary, would be the following night at Avista.
Spokane’s last postseason appearance was in 2010, when the Indians won the first-half title.
The Indians start the second half tonight with the first of five games at Salem-Keizer. Spokane begins an eight-game homestand Sunday night with the first of three against Vancouver.