Around 1 p.m. this afternoon, when rain was pouring down around Tri-Cities, I was wondering if I'd even be out here at Gesa Stadium this evening. In my eight years covering the Dust Devils, I've never seen a home game rained out. Mike Angel, the head groundskeeper, has been here a few years longer and he's never seen one either.
But it's as beautiful a day as we've had here this season. Only a few clouds off in the distance, and a striking, clear view of the Nine Canyon foothills across the Columbia River.
Tri-City could use a lift today after absorbing its second consecutive extra-inning loss and its fifth straight loss overall with yesterday's 7-3 defeat to Yakima in 11 innings. It didn't help that, in one day, they lost three of their top run producers in 1B Jordan Ribera (promoted), SS Joey Wong (finished rehabilitation assignment) and C Tom Murphy (hamstring).
Whenever the Dust Devils have needed a boost, it's usually the pitching that comes through. Tonight, Tri-City will send RHP Josh Slaats (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the hill to face Yakima RHP Bobby O'Neill (0-0, 3.60).
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Dust Devils third baseman Matt Argyropoulos had a rough game yesterday. He committed his third error of the season at third and went 1-for-5 to dip his season average below the .200 mark.
He's not off to a great start today, either, misplaying Mike Lang's first-inning ground ball for an error. But he redeems himself on the next batter, snaring a hot line drive off the bat of Shaun Cooper and then doubling Lang off first to end the inning.
No score after two innings.
One of my favorite promotions to watch out here is the chip shot, when they grab a young fan out of the stands and have them square off with Dust Devils pitching coach Dave Burba in a closest-to-the-pin contest from about 30 feet or so.
Usually, the kids are off line, and sometimes by a lot. But Burba, who is a pretty good golfer, always plays along. If the kid is 10 feet away from the pin, Burba will fire a shot 15 feet off line and then shake the kid's hand.
Today, Erik the Peanut Guy even made Burba wear a golf hat.
What a sport.
Slaats walks Danny Poma with one out and then gives up a single to Jesus Abreu, but then gets some help from his defense, which turns its second double play of the day. Josh Parr, who hit the game-winning grand slam home run in the top of the 11th inning last night, then lined a ball to Derek Jones in right, and Jones threw to second to double off Poma.
After 2 1/2, still no score.
Michael Ramirez singled to lead off the third but was caught trying to steal second base. That's the third time in the last four attempts a Dust Devils baserunner has been thrown out at second.
Dillon Thomas reverses that trend, however, stealing second after a two-out single to right later in the inning.
Dust Devils can't bring him in though. They're 0-for-4 so far with runners in scoring position through the first three frames.
Still no score after 3 1/2.
Tri-City putting something together here in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Argyropoulos bounces an infield single down the third base line and takes second on a walk to Robert De La Cruz, setting up another runner in scoring position with less than two outs.
Let's see what happens....
The plot thickens: Bears reliever Jeff Gibbs just threw a wild pitch to Patrick Hutcheson, the Dust Devils' No. 8 hitter, moving the runners up 90 feet. Then he threw another to bring Argyropoulos home and put De La Cruz at third with one out.
That's it for Gibbs, who — with 19 pitches — retired just one batter, gave up one hit and two walks and uncorked two wild pitches.
But Yakima gets a break after bringing in Kyle Owings to stop the bleeding. He struck out Ramirez and then got a catch-and-throw double play, as catcher Ronnie Freeman nails Hutcheson at second to end the inning.
Still, Tri-City takes the lead 1-0 after four.
The Bears just won't go away. They take advantage of Slaats, who was nearing 90 pitches, to tie the score at 1.
Slaats got the first two outs in the sixth, but Lang reached on an infield single and Slaats hit Shaun Cooper to put Lang in scoring position. Jacob House then went the other way, sending a 2-0 pitch to right field to drive in Lang.
Slaats will finish the inning, but he'll get some relief in the seventh. Overall, a good job by the Big Kahuna. Six innings, four hits, one run, four strikeouts and one walk. He won't get the win but he lowers his ERA 32 points to 1.93.
These two teams combined for 23 hits Monday night. Tonight we're seeing much more of a pitcher's duel. Dust Devils 1B Miguel De Leon just singled with two outs in the eighth, and that was just the 11th hit between the two teams.
Argyropoulos has some idea about how he wants this game to end.
He just blasted a two-run home run over the center field wall. That's his first Northwest League home run since coming to Tri-City in mid season last year. That has to feel good for him, especially after missing an opportunity to drive in the winner last night.
Dust Devils win it 3-1. Will Rankin comes in to close it out in the ninth. He allows a pair of two-out singles but gets Poma to line out to Yafistel Roja at second to end it and collect his third save.