For nine innings on Tuesday, Spokane Indians and Eugene Emeralds batters toiled under the sporadic midday sun battling through white, puffy clouds with the occasional blue sky peering out from behind.
It must have made for uncomfortable at-bats, as the teams combined for just six hits and – more important – zero runs through regulation.
But it took just one extra inning to push the winner across.
Colin Simpson delivered a pinch-hit single in the bottom of the 10th and the Indians topped the Emeralds 1-0 to open a six-game Northwest League series at Avista Stadium.
The win ends a four-game losing streak for the Indians (17-15).
“I was just trying to get a good ball to put in the air,” Simpson said. “Luckily, he left a curveball up in the zone too much and I got barrel on it.”
With automatic runner Julio Carreras at second base, Bladimir Restituyo led off the 10th with a sacrifice bunt to move the runner to third. Manager Scott Little called upon Simpson, hitting .321 , to pinch hit for Ben Sems.
On a 2-0 count, Simpson’s liner to the right side got through and Carreras trotted home with the winning run.
“I was just looking for something in my zone, not trying to do too much,” Simpson said. “We had a runner at third, even a sac fly to the outfield does the job there.”
Simpson, who starts two or three times a week, is making the most of his chances when he gets the opportunity.
“I knew since probably the seventh inning there was gonna be a chance I was gonna pinch hit,” he said.
“Every inning, I was going into tunnel doing a couple of high knees. I’ve been out here in the dugout watching the pitchers, trying to keep my timing alive and finally got my chance.”
The starters engaged in a pitching duel. Mike Ruff, making his sixth start for the Indians this season, went six innings and allowed one hit and two walks with five strikeouts. He allowed just one runner to reach second base.
“His breaking balls are looking really good,” catcher Drew Romo said of Ruff. “That breaking ball-fastball combo is deadly for him. So he did a good job commanding those pitches.”
Emeralds starter Nick Swiney was just as good. He lasted just four innings, but he allowed just three hits and no walks with six strikeouts.
Ruff relishes his responsibility as Little’s “Tuesday starter” at the beginning of each weekly series.
“It’s that Tuesday role that I have,” Ruff said. “It’s nice because I come out here and I can kind of start us off on a good note.”
“I think it’s a challenge for him and he likes that,” Romo said.
“Monday is our off day and so he came up here yesterday, he was in the bullpen getting his work in. He’s a really hard worker and so he gets after it.”
The Indians’ best chance early came in the second inning when Daniel Montano singled with one out and went to third on an errant pickoff throw. The outfielder was stranded there when Carreras and Restituyo struck out.
Grant Lavigne reached second in the fourth inning after a single and a passed ball, but Carreras’ liner through the box was snared by Swiney to end the inning.
The Emeralds loaded the bases in the top of the 10th with one down off reliever Luke Taggert, but he came back to get Hunter Bishop on strikes and Marco Luciano, the No. 13 overall prospect in the minors, popped up to end the threat.
• Day baseball: The game was billed as a “Businesspersons Special” with a 12:05 p.m. start. The idea originally was supposed to feature elementary school groups, but with COVID and the other pressures on school systems the club marketed Monday’s early game to business groups and chambers of commerce with the hope that next year it can entice school groups to come out.
“We wanted to keep the day game, which I think fans really enjoy,” senior vice president Otto Klein said. “The businessperson special has been a tradition that we’ve had here for years, which I think everyone enjoys.
“We did one last year, but that was under different circumstances. This year, I would say it was definitely more normal. We’re going to do another one in August, and I think the one in August will be much heavier attended. I think it takes time to get the word out.”
The announced attendance was 1,984.
• New guy: Infielder Mateo Gil made his High-A debut at third base for the Indians. He was activated to the roster for the series and spent the first part of the season at extended spring training.
The 21-year-old from Newport Beach, California, was a 2018 third-round pick of St. Louis and was part of the 2021 trade that sent Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies to the Cardinals.
Last year with Low-A Fresno, Gil hit .249/.294/.396 with nine homers, 58 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 94 games. He is the son of former big leaguer Benji Gil, who spend eight seasons with Texas and Anaheim and is the first-base coach with the Angels.
• What a relief: Anderson Pilar, Adam McKillican and Shelby Lackey all tossed a scoreless inning of relief after Ruff departed. The three combined to allow one hit and three walks with three strikeouts.
McKillican, who was added to the team on April 26, has yet to give up an earned run over four appearances and six innings.