EUGENE – The Eugene Emeralds had the worst record in the Northwest League this season yet find themselves two wins from a league title.
Levi Jordan hit just his second home run of the season in the eighth inning and the Emeralds beat the Spokane Indians 3-2 in Game 1 of the Northwest League Championship Series at PK Park on Sunday.
Game 2 is Monday in Eugene at 7:05 p.m. The Indians are designated as “home” for the first two of the five-game series, all to be played at PK Park due to Avista Stadium being unavailable because of the Spokane County Fair this week.
The Hillsboro Hops won both halves of the South Division and the Emeralds qualified for the playoffs with the second-best second-half record at 17-21. The Ems then swept the Hops in the division series.
The Indians got a runner on in the ninth, as Tanner Gardner produced a one-out single. Starling Joseph followed with a foul ball out toward the dugout at third that Indians manager Kenny Holmberg argued wasn’t a catch. Holmberg was ejected.
Gardner reached third on the play, but Hasuan Viera grounded out to end the game.
The Indians started Scott Engler in Game 1, who came in 3-6 with a 5.87 ERA. It was his first appearance since Aug. 31 when he allowed three runs on nine hits and three walks over 4 2/3 innings in a no decision against Tri-City.
Eugene starter Riley Thompson went 0-2, 2.84 in the regular season over nine appearances and eight starts.
Engler got into some trouble in the third as Caleb Knight singled and Luis Vazquez reached when Engler couldn’t handle a bunt attempt.
Engler induced Andy Weber to bounce one to second and Diosbel Arias started a 4-6-3 double play. Jax Biggers followed with a nice play behind the bag on a grounder by Nelson Velazquez to keep it scoreless.
Thompson retired seven straight Indians hitters until the fourth, but the righty had only pitched past the third inning three times this summer.
J.P. Martinez led off the frame with a line-drive homer to right, his second of the playoffs and 10th overall. After Curtis Terry struck out, Diosbel Arias clubbed one to left, his fourth overall, and the Indians led 2-0 after four.
In the fifth, Fernando Kelli doubled with one down, went to third on a groundout and scored on an infield hit by Vazquez. Weber and Velazquez followed with consecutive singles to tie it.
Luke Reynolds put a charge into one to left, but Tanner Gardner made a running catch to escape further damage and keep the game even.
With one out in the bottom half, Isaias Quiroz reached on a wild pitch after a strike out, then Biggers worked Thompson on a 13-pitch at-bat resulting in a line-drive single to right, ending Thompson’s evening.
Derek Casey came in to strike out Martinez and get Terry to pop out to short to end the threat.
Engler was done after five innings. The Indians starter allowed two runs on seven hits and no walks with one strikeout. Jesus Linarez came on and allowed a single in a scoreless sixth and tossed a 1-2-3 seventh.
Joseph led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk against reliever Cam Sanders. He was wiped out on a grounder by Viera, who reached.
Isaias Quiroz struck out, but Viera stole second, then went to third on a throwing error by the catcher. Biggers grounded out to second, though, to end the rally.
Linarez had two down in the eighth, but left a 2-2 breaking ball up high and Jordan crushed it to left for his second home run of the season.
Emeralds reliever Ivan Medina struck out Martinez and Terry in a scoreless eighth and despite the excitement in the ninth the Indians came up empty.