The Tri-City Dust Devils were threatened by dark, stormy skies and some distant thunderstorms before completing Friday’s 6-2 Northwest League loss to the Boise Hawks in front of 3,107 fans at Gesa Stadium.
A more serious threat loomed, however, regarding the Dust Devils’ chances of remaining in the second-half playoff race.
Tri-City (7-15 second half, 26-34 overall) fell five games behind Spokane (12-10, 32-28) in the North Division standings with 16 games remaining in the season. Five games is tough to make up, but without more offense will be close to impossible.
The Dust Devils have averaged two runs over their last 10 games, which is a problem against Boise, the top offensive club in the NWL averaging just over five a game.
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“From our persective, we can’t try to get hits. That’s out of our control. If anybody could do that, it would be easy enough to go out and make a million dollars playing baseball,” Tri-City manager Drew Saylor said.
When Saylor heard the next stat, even he was a little taken aback.
Not since a 2-0 road win at Hillsboro on Aug. 11 — a stretch of 45 innings over five full games — has Tri-City held a lead.
“I didn’t think that was the case,” he said. “The thing we can do is stick with our approach until the very end.
“Really the only day I got upset was when we laid down (in a 7-2 loss to Spokane on Tuesday). Right now, we’re giving great effort, competing at the plate and doing our best. It sounds kind of middle-schoolish, but that’s all I can ask.”
Saylor also was encouraged by another strong outing by Dust Devils starter Ryan Warner (3-3), who took the loss despite allowing three runs on six hits over six innings. The NWL All-Star gave up a run in the first after a leadoff single by Kevin Encarnacion led to an RBI grounder by Yasiel Balaguert.
Jacob Rogers added a two-run double in the third and added another RBI double in the top of the ninth to finish 2-for-3 with three RBIs. Encarnacion finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored.
Wilfredo Rodriguez provided another bright spot for Tri-City, extending his hitting streak to eight games with an RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the second. That cut Boise’s lead to 3-1.
It was a rough night for the Dust Devils relief corps. Kennewick native Tony Bryant relieved Warner to start the seventh and walked four of the six batters he faced, allowing a run to push the Hawks’ lead to 4-1.
Huascar Brazoban allowed two runs on two walks, a pair of wild pitches and a balk in the top of the ninth as Boise pushed its lead to 6-1.
Shawn Stuart did pitch out of a jam in the seventh after Bryant's fourth walk re-loaded the bases with two outs. The second-year pro came in to face Rony Rodriguez, who came into the game hitting .359 since Aug. 1, and struck him out on three pitches.
Stuart then retired the side in order in the top of the eighth to lower his ERA to 5.02.
Tri-City showed some late spark, however, when Ashley Graeter drew a one-out walk to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Rodriguez then walked to put Graeter in scoring position. Alec Mehrten followed with a soft liner to center field that fell in for a single, scoring Graeter to make it 6-2.
Jose Rosario (1-0) got the win for the Hawks, allowing just a run on three hits over five innings.