With two weeks left in the regular season, the Spokane Indians are fighting for their Northwest League playoff lives.
Eugene, the first-half champion, leads the second half as well. If the Emeralds hold on, the second playoff spot goes to the team with the best overall record after Eugene.
That distinction narrowly belongs to Vancouver, which is at Avista Stadium this week for a seven-game series that could go a long way in deciding who faces Eugene in the championship series in a couple of weeks.
Tuesday’s result, though, made the task a little bit tougher for Spokane.
Damiano Palmegiana, Gabby Martinez and Alex De Jesus homered early and the Vancouver Canadians cruised to a 9-4 win over the Indians in the first game of the series.
The Indians (26-28 second half) dropped to 2½ games behind the Canadians in the overall season-record tiebreaker. Eugene (34-21) is 1½ games ahead of Vancouver (32-22) in the second half with a 6-1 win over Everett.
“It was not a very good job,” Indians manager Scott Little said. “You know, we just got in a hole real quick.
“We had talked to them. They know where we’re at. We just got to stop giving up big numbers and get on the board so we’re in baseball games. We get behind the eight ball early and way too often.”
“Honestly, if we want to make playoffs this is kind of a must-win series,” outfielder Colin Simpson said. “If we can come out of here at 4-3 in this series that gives us a really good chance going into the last week to clinch a playoff spot.
“We’ll just have to come out tomorrow and the next day take it day-by-day and hopefully win the week.”
The Canadians attacked Indians starter Ryley Widell, a late-season addition to the staff, from the start. Widell walked the first two batters he faced, but an attempted double-steal resulted in an out. Palmegiana stepped in and hit a line drive into the first row past the short fence in the right-field corner.
Martinez led off the second with a homer to almost the same spot as Palmegiana. Two hits and a walk loaded the bases and a sacrifice fly by Andres Sosa made it 4-0.
“We tried to make midgame adjustments to start going in to right-handed hitters and we just couldn’t get there,” pitching coach Ryan Kibler said.
Rainer Nunez followed with a single to right to score one run, and when the throw from the outfield got past catcher Ronaiker Palma, Dasan Brown hustled home with the Canadians’ sixth run of the game.
De Jesus led off the fourth with a long homer to left to make it 7-0, and Vancouver pitched up single runs in the sixth and seventh.
Widell (1-3) allowed seven runs, six earned, on nine hits and three walks with four strikeouts over five innings.
It wasn’t the start Kibler wanted or expected.
“No, not at all,” he said. “We started off the game 0-2 and then walk back-to-back. Those kinds of trend right there. Just too many pitches thigh high.
“I think they need to go with a sense of urgency and show up and win some ballgames, heightened focus, do whatever you got to do – more work, less work, whatever it is this time of year.”
Spokane finally got on the board in the seventh. Colin Simpson drove a ball to the wall in center that Brown got a glove on, but it came out when he crashed into the wall, allowing Simpson to motor all the way to third. Eric Pardinho uncorked a wild pitch, and Simpson hustled home.
Back-to-back singles by Palma and Mateo Gil put runners on the corners with no outs, and another wild pitch allowed Palma to score to make it 9-2.
The Indians loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth on three consecutive singles. Eddy Diaz scored on a sacrifice fly and Drew Romo came home on an infield single by Gil. But that’s where the rally ended.
Romo finished 3 for 4, raising his average to .271. He has hit .180 since returning from a right hand injury on Aug. 13.
“If we have any chance we need (Romo),” Little said. “We need him, Simpson, Goodman in the middle of lineup. And we need guys to get on base.”
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