Normally division championships are celebrated with champagne showers in the locker room. The Spokane Indians settled for cheering and high fives on a crowded bus.
The Indians players all piled into their team bus to head home from Boise as Tri-City finished up its game with Hillsboro. With Spokane knocking off Boise 4-2 earlier, a Dust Devils’ loss ensured the Indians the Northwest League North division first-half title.
Spokane players silently listened to the radio stream and clung to the front of their bus seats as Hillsboro’s Jake Winston forced Tri-City’s Boomer White to ground out to third base for the final out, completing a 3-0 shutout.
A celebration followed on the Indians bus. But it didn’t last as long as you might expect.
“It was a fun bus ride, a lot of energy,” Indians outfielder Chad Smith said. “But it was the middle of the night as well. After about an hour, all of the energy went away and we were knocked out.”
The Indians won three of their last five at Boise, which was enough to claim the first-half championship. The difference maker was the 2-1 head-to-head advantage Spokane held over Tri-City.
The signature part of the Indians final first-half series, according to manager Tim Hulett, was winning two of the last three games after blowing a 6-2 lead in Friday’s game against the Hawks.
“You just could feel the air come out of the sails a little bit,” Hulett said of the Friday's loss.
The Indians were resilient and ensured a spot in the playoffs with the first-half title. The Indians will take on the Northwest League North second-half winner (or next best overall record) in a three-game series, and have their choice of hosting game one or games two and three.
While Hulett said it’s nice to wrap up a playoff berth early, it doesn’t change the team’s approach in the second half.
“I told the guys we want to win the second half to prove to everybody it’s not a fluke,” Hulett said.
And it’s only fitting Spokane starts the second half against Tri-City, the team that fumbled away the first-half title to Spokane.
“I’m sure they’ll be gunning for our heads,” Smith said.
Indians All-Star snubs?
Four Spokane Indians were named All-Stars (you can read the story here) and Hulett has no problem with who was selected.
“Everybody can make a case for a guy in their organization,” Hulett said. “We can only put so many guys on an All-Star team, so my message to a lot of guys is, if you don’t like it, play better next time.”
Even with limited spots, there are a few Spokane Indians you can make a case for. Blaine Prescott comes to Smith’s mind.
“It’s tough when you see guys that deserve a chance to make and didn’t get the chance to make it, one of those being Blaine Prescott,” Smith said. “He definitely, I thought, deserved the opportunity.”
Another one that comes to mind is Johan Juan, who leading the Indians with a 0.47 ERA and has only given up one earned run all season. It didn’t help that his signature game of the first half was the final one, most likely after the teams were selected.
Juan picked up the save in Spokane’s win over Boise on Monday, throwing four scoreless innings of relief.
“He was outstanding … it was like he took it on his shoulders,” Hulett said. “I really didn’t have any plans to pitch him four innings there either, but he was just blowing through them so fast I didn’t see any reason to take him out.”