For a team that lived by Yogi Berra’s saying that “It ain’t over till it’s over,” the end came on a beautiful fall evening when that one last comeback just never materialized.
The Eugene Emeralds blanked the Spokane Indians 5-0 Friday night to claim the High-A West championship, taking three of four games at Avista Stadium.
It was a quiet ending.
“I think I’m more sad that I won’t get to see these guys tomorrow than I am that we lost,” Spokane manager Scott Little said.
On Aug. 3, Spokane stood 14½ games back of the first-place Emeralds and finished the regular season one-half game out of first place.
“This was the best experience I’ve had in professional baseball,” Little said of the season. “This was a group of players who grew together, played together and battled together. They learned daily.”
With all five games slated for Avista Stadium for the championship series, the Indians still found themselves in a deep hole after Eugene took the first two games. Spokane rallied Thursday night for a 6-1 win and carried that energy into Friday’s Game 4.
Eugene starter Ryan Murphy quickly stopped that momentum.
While not overpowering, the right-hander, who was promoted to High-A on July 29, turned in a second straight sharp performance.
Against Tri-City in his final start of the regular season, Murphy struck out eight over four innings. Friday, he worked five shutout innings and struck out seven, inviting Spokane bats to chase balls just outside the strike zone.
He allowed just two base hits, both ground balls back through the box.
The Emeralds used four pitchers and collected a dozen strikeouts.
Spokane turned to Trent Fennell, a pitcher who stepped into the starting rotation late in the regular season when the Indians lost two starters to COVID-19.
Fennell gave up a lead-off double to Sean Roby to start the second inning and the Emeralds’ first baseman moved to third on a ground out to second. Tyler Fitzgerald hit a sacrifice fly that Isaac Collins caught with his back against the wall in left field to score the only run Eugene needed to earn the title.
Fennell hit Fitzgerald with an inside pitch in the fifth inning and Marco Luciano followed with a two-run home run to make it a 3-0 lead. Ismael Munguia and Brett Auerbach hit back-to-back home runs to left field in the eighth to set the final margin.
The Indians gave the home fans one last thrill in the top of the ninth as Brenton Doyle drilled a line drive high off the wall in left field for a two-out triple, but ruining the shutout wasn’t in the cards after Grant Lavigne made the last out of the season on a ground ball to short.
Spokane players and coaches will now head home.
“These guys were just resilient,” Little said. “They took things day-to-day and they got better every single day. And they liked being around each other.
“It was a great experience.”
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