The Tri-City Dust Devils held up their end of the bargain in the season finale Sunday at Gesa Stadium, losing to the Vancouver Canadians 5-0, but the window of opportunity for a playoff berth closed before the final pitch was even thrown.
One hundred-something miles northeast of Pasco, Austin O’Banion delivered a 10th-inning, walk-off single to plate Miguel Aparicio to lift the Spokane Indians to a 3-2 win over the Everett AquaSox, securing the team the NWL North second-half division title and a playoff berth. The Dust Devils would have made the postseason if both they and the Indians lost on the final day of the season.
But despite the season ending with a sour taste — Tri-City finished on a four-game losing and 42-inning scoreless streaks — there were a still a lot of positives for the players and the San Diego Padres organization to take away from this squad.
Representative of the parent club’s draft strategy the past couple years, Tri-City’s pitching was fantastic. The staff led the NWL in ERA this season (3.05) and recorded 13 strikeouts in the final game to set a new league record for K’s in a season (764).
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In addition to a bullpen that was at times unhittable, Ben Sheckler establishd himself as one of the league’s most dominant starting pitchers, and was named to the NWL End of Year All-Star Team, finishing the season with a 2.60 ERA and .248 BAA, with 60 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings in his 13 appearances with the Dust Devils.
While the team had its share of struggles at the plate this year, mid-season addition Robbie Podorsky — an outfielder drafted by the Padres in the 25th round out of McNeese State — proved himself a capable professional hitter in the Dust Devils’ leadoff spot, accruing a .302 batting average in just under 150 at-bats at the short-season Class A level, which would have put him in the Top 10 of the league had he have gotten a few more plate appearances.
Tri-City also had four players in the NWL All-Star game, in pitchers Emmanuel Ramirez, Henry Henry and Jose Galindo, and the game’s MVP, outfielder Luis Asuncion.
As a team, the Dust Devils (40-36) were in both halves of the division race until their bitter ends, as they lost the first-half title to the Canadians by a game.
As for the playoffs, Vancouver — riding a four-game winning streak after sweeping Tri-City — is at Spokane at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the first of the three-game North Division Finals series, and Eugene hosts Hillsboro at 7:05 p.m. in the South. The NWL Championship series begins Sunday.