The Spokane Indians needed one more strike to clinch a postseason berth.
Instead of giving the Indians that strike, Corey Simpson struck.
Simpson’s two-out, two-run homer to left field on a 0-2 pitch in the ninth inning Sunday stunned the Indians and gave the Everett AquaSox a 3-2 win at Avista Stadium.
“That’s the game of baseball,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “You have to finish the game.”
The Indians (24-13) would have clinched the Northwest League’s North Division first-half title and automatic playoff bid with a victory. The disheartening finish left them in a first-place tie with Vancouver, which defeated Tri-City 9-0 Sunday night, with one game left.
The Indians opened the afternoon with a magic number of one. If Spokane and Vancouver tie for first place, the Indians hold the tiebreaker because of their 4-2 edge over Vancouver this season.
Simpson connected against Johnny Fasola (0-1), who relieved in the eighth after Indians starter Richelson Pena threw seven masterful innings.
Fasola, who had been nearly unhittable this season, struck out the side in the eighth and retired the first two batters in the ninth before Kyle Petty blooped a single to right.
“We had our outfielders up against the wall,” Hulett said. “We didn’t want to give up a double, and (Petty) ends up hitting one off the end of the bat for a knock in front of us.”
Simpson fouled off one 0-2 pitch before silencing the Spokane crowd with his fifth homer of the season.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play with two strikes,” Simpson said. … “I really didn’t get all of it. I got under it a little bit, but the wind here blows out. I thought it would be a regular, routine fly ball.”
Fernando Vivili’s two-out walk was all the Indians could muster in the bottom of the ninth.
The rally by the AquaSox (11-26) came after Spokane took a 2-1 lead in the eighth. Isiah Kiner-Falefa led off with a single to left and advanced to second on Seth Spivey’s sacrifice. Marcus Greene singled Kiner-Falefa to third, and Luke Tendler followed with an RBI single to right.
Spokane’s Saquan Johnson led off the bottom of the sixth with a homer to the short porch in right, tying the game at 1. The homer, which hit the red seats in the front row and bounced back on the field, was Johnson’s fourth in three seasons with the Indians.
“That was a big hit,” Hulett said. “We were struggling off (Everett starter Luiz Gohara). He had three good pitches and a little bit of velocity. That was a big home run to give us some momentum.”
Pena allowed five hits and one earned run in seven innings, throwing 54 of his 75 pitches for strikes. He retired nine consecutive batters during one stretch.
“If he’d gone eight (innings) and lost the game, it would have left a bad taste in his mouth,” Hulett said. “He pitched good enough to get us to that point.”
Simpson understood Spokane’s subdued mood.
“Kudos to them,” Simpson said. “They’re a really good team. We’re struggling a little bit, but we’re finding our way.”
Indians outfielder Eduard Pinto, the league’s No. 2 batter at .362, missed his third consecutive game with inflammation in his left wrist. … Spokane had been 4-0 against Everett this season.
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