If the Spokane Indians go on to win the North Division first-half title next week, they might point to the past two games as being key to that endeavor.
The Indians won on Monday in dramatic fashion as Jonah McReynolds hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth. On Tuesday at Avista Stadium – despite a late scare – the heroics came earlier in the game.
Jake Hoover smacked an RBI double as part of a four-run second inning, Luis Asuncion homered in the sixth and the Indians edged the second-place Everett AquaSox 5-4 in the finale of a three-game Northwest League series.
The three games were decided by a total of five runs.
The Indians (18-14) moved two games ahead of Everett (16-16) with six to play. The Indians host last-place Vancouver (10-21) for three before going to Everett to decide matters. The Indians are 11-5 on the road.
“We look at it series by series,” Indians manager Kenny Hook said. “To get a series win against someone we’re directly competing against in our home ballpark, which is a little strange because we haven’t been winning series here, but it’s huge.”
Five Spokane pitchers limited the AquaSox to two hits. Kellen Strahm went 2 for 4 with an RBI and extended his team-high hitting streak to 10 games.
“We feel good,” Strahm said. “But, you know, we’re just going to come out tomorrow, play Vancouver, try to beat them. You know, come out hot and try to take the series from them.”
Zak Kent, a ninth-round pick out of Virginia Military Institute, made his second start for the Indians. He went two shutout innings – his longest appearance of the season – and allowed one hit and no walks with a strikeout.
Kent was the beneficiary of a couple of terrific defensive plays in the first.
Patrick Frick singled and went to second on a wild pitch. He tried to advance on a grounder to short, but Cristian Inoa sniffed out the play and nabbed him with a throw to McReynolds at third. The next batter, Robert Perez, bounced one behind the second base bag and Inoa ranged far to his left and threw across his body to get Perez by a step at first.
Blaine Crim led off the bottom of the second with a walk, then went to third on Tanner Gardner’s double to the right-field corner. Crim scored on a wild pitch. With one down, Obie Ricumstrict lofted a broken-bat looper to center that fell for a base hit. Gardner jogged home with the Indians’ second run.
Hoover followed with a double to right-center to plate Gardner, then Strahm singled home Hoover to make it 4-0.
“I think I’m just taking better swings,” Strahm said of the hitting streak. “I just had to get back in a groove. I took a little bit off after college and rested up a little bit, but I’m hitting my stride and getting back to where I’m comfortable.”
Everett starter Tim Elliott, the Seattle Mariners’ fourth round pick, was done after two. He allowed five hits and a walk with two strikeouts.
Indians’ reliever John Matthews got into some trouble in the third, loading the bases with one out on two walks and a hit batter. But after a brief meeting with pitching coach Cody Aden, Matthews came back to strike out the next two to escape the jam. Matthews struck out four over two innings.
The Indians tacked on a run in the sixth on Asuncion’s no-doubt homer to left-center, his third of the season.
“He gave me a changeup first pitch, so I was kind of looking for that,” Asuncion said. “He struck me out bad (earlier), so when he threw it again I hit it pretty good.”
Everett made it a game in the eighth. Indians reliever Juan Castillo filled the bases on a pair of walks and his throwing error on a comebacker. Hook brought in Warner Leal and Cash Gladfelter crushed a fastball to right for a grand slam and narrowed the Spokane lead to one.
“You never know in this ballpark with a lefty,” Hook said. “That kid is a good hitter. I think the way that inning developed, obviously, with the walks and error there, we put ourselves in that position. But you know what, that’s where (Asuncion’s) home run came in huge. To get that fifth run, a lot of times, where a grand slam doesn’t tie it, is huge.”
Leal recovered to deliver a 1-2-3 ninth to secure the win.
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