In a season filled with improbabilities and comebacks, the Spokane Indians may have saved their best for the biggest game of the year.
They absolutely needed to beat Tri-City Sunday to have any chance of winning the Northwest League’s East Division.
Spokane scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to rally for a 6-4 win in front of a full-house crowd of 7,022 at Avista Stadium.
Thus making tonight’s game at Boise the biggest game of the year.
The Indians (35-38) head to Boise for a three-game series leading Tri-City by one game and Boise by two, meaning they control their own destiny.
“It puts it in our hands, and that’s easier to deal with,” Indians catcher Ben Crabtree said. “When it comes down to it, you have to win games either way.”
In capping the three-game sweep of the biggest series of the season, the nine guys in manager Greg Riddoch’s batting order were the only nine healthy enough to play.
They combined for 13 hits to raise the Indians’ batting average in the three-game series to .354, including the five biggest hits of the season.
After K.C. Herren scored on a wild pitch by Tri-City starter Zach Simons (6-5), tying the game at three in the bottom of the sixth, Spokane was left with two outs, nobody on and the bottom half of the lineup coming to the plate – a good recipe for a quick start to the top of the seventh.
Not these Indians, and especially not in this series.
John Mayberry Jr. lined a double high off the center-field wall, and Joey Hooft singled him in for the lead. Jonathan Higashi perfectly executed a hit-and-run, singling through the gap left by the covering second baseman and moving Hooft to third, and Crabtree singled to right to score Hooft to extend the lead. Ninth-place hitter Julio Santana singled to left field when Travis Bechtel lost the ball in the lights, scoring Higashi, but Crabtree was easily thrown out at the plate.
How did five guys, only one batting over .250, combine to do so much damage?
“We have to,” Crabtree said. “Obviously we haven’t hit well all year, but we are capable hitters. It was just a matter of time before everything started clicking.”
A good sign was the way Mayberry Jr. hit the ball. In a season of struggle, Mayberry Jr. went 3 for 4 with a double and a homer, positioning himself to possibly get hot for the final series.
“It’s very important, because I have to feel good and comfortable up there in the batter’s box and just find a good pitch to hit,” Mayberry Jr. said.
Juan Carlos Garcia (1-2) picked up the win in relief, and Nate Fogle threw a perfect ninth for his second save.
Riddoch, who said after the game he wouldn’t be back to manage the Indians again next year, gave credit to a team that, right now, is just enjoying the ride.
“If you watched us in batting practice, the other team is standing there staring at us, saying, ‘How can you guys be having so much fun?’ ” Riddoch said. “It’s not about, ‘Okay, you have to win seven of five and you have to do this and the magic numbers are 96.’ They don’t pay attention.”
C Taylor Teagarden sat out the game with a sore back. … SS German Duran appears to be very close to returning to the lineup. Duran has been out since breaking a blood vessel in his right hand prior to the Indians’ game on Aug. 28.
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