The skies above Gesa Stadium were roiling Thursday night, threatening to unleash a storm.
But the light rain that fell served only as relief from a humid day that was 90 degrees at first pitch, and the only lightning strike in the vicinity was Miguel De Leon’s thunderous home run.
The big first baseman’s grand slam was the crushing blow during Tri-City’s five-run fifth inning, and the Dust Devils held on for a 7-5 win over the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.
Tri-City got a big relief effort from Ryan Arrowood, who came on with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh and got a strikeout looking and a soft liner to right to quash the threat.
“Coming off a tough road trip, it was good to get the win,” said Dust Devils manager Fred Ocasio.
It was the first game of a five-game series with Volcanoes (12-22) and the first of an eight-game homestand for the Dust Devils (15-19), who could use some home cooking after losing seven of eight on the road.
“At home, with our fans,” De Leon said through an interpreter, “it feels better to be at home with our fans’ support.”
Tri-City’s game-changing fifth inning was this close to being another bad inning for the Dust Devils batters.
Patrick Hutcheson doubled to lead off the frame but got only as far as third following a ground out and a strikeout. Kyle Von Tungeln worked a walk back at the top of the lineup, and Rosell Herrera hit a dying liner to center that looked like it might hold up enough for S-K outfielder Charlie Jones to make a nice play to end the inning.
Instead, the ball landed just in front of Jones’ attempt, scoring Hutcheson to pull Tri-City within 4-2.
But, it turned out, the Dust Devils were just getting started.
Tom Murphy drew the second walk off Volcanoes starter Kendry Flores (1-3).
Then De Leon stepped to the plate with a chance to turn things around big time.
“Mentally, I was 100 percent ready,” said De Leon, who struck out and popped up to short in his first two at-bats.
With two strikes on him, De Leon found a pitch where he could extend his long arms and put a wallop on the ball, driving it well over the left-field wall and thrilling the announced crowd of 2,886.
“With two strikes, I was looking for anything,” he said.
Hutcheson, who got a gift triple in the sixth on a misplayed liner to left, said he was confident the Dust Devils would get something big out of that fifth inning, despite Tri-City’s recent lack of clutch hitting.
“I felt confidence — we all do in each other,” he said. “We’ve definitely been missing that big hit, that two-out, two-strike hit. Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.”
The Volcanoes opened a 4-0 lead in the third, thanks in part to Joe Rapp’s RBI double — his second two-base hit in as many innings.
Tri-City starter Ben Hughes (2-3) fought through his five innings, giving up seven hits, three for extra bases. Only one of his runs, however, was earned as an infield error extended S-K’s three-run third.
After Hughes left, Chris Dennis and Arrowood kept things steady into the ninth, when Brook Hart came on. Despite giving up three hits and a run, Hart closed it out for his third save.
Notes: Tom Murphy is 7-for-26 (.269) with two triples and two RBIs since returning from a hamstring injury July 11. His .326 average leads the Dust Devils, though he doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify among the league leaders. ... LF Francisco Sosa, who went 2-for-4, got yet another outfield assist when he threw out a runner trying to stretch a single into a double in the fifth. ... Tonight’s scheduled starters are Peter Tago (1-4, 7.53 ERA) for the Dust Devils and Chris Stratton (0-0, 4.50) for the Volcanoes.