The Tri-City Dust Devils haven’t earned a playoff berth yet, but they proved once again they can celebrate like champions.
Miguel Dilone’s game-winning two-run single early Thursday morning scored Shane Hoelscher and Drew Weeks to give the Dust Devils a 7-6 win in the 14th inning. The wave of teammates that followed him after his walk-off hit was reminiscent of Rocky’s sprint up the Philadelphia Art Museum steps.
Except the native Philadelphians didn’t douse Rocky with a cooler full of water after he reached the top.
The excitement was understandable. After battling for more than five hours and 14 innings, the Dust Devils (10-10 second half) finally found themselves in sole possession of first place in the Northwest League North Division. Coming into Thursday’s game, Tri-City was one game up on Everett, Spokane and Vancouver, who were each tied for second place at 9-11.
Not to mention that just two weeks ago, Tri-City was 14-24 and finished 11 games off the pace in the race for the first-half title. Not a bad way to put that memory behind them.
“I think we’re trying to have more fun now than the first half. Things are getting better for us every single day,” Dilone said. “That’s the important thing for us, to have fun and play baseball no matter what.”
Tri-City manager Drew Saylor pointed to several moments during the 14-inning marathon that helped turn the tide.
“It was great seeing Hoelscher rebound after throwing the ball away. (Richard) Prigatano had a big at-bat. (Sean) Dwyer had a big at-bat, and Weeksy came in to run for Dwyer,” Saylor said. “We got great energy from all 35 guys. Guys that weren’t (playing), it was like they were up there at the plate. The energy the dugout was giving everybody on the field was very enjoyable and exciting to see.”
Saylor would like nothing more than to guide his team to the playoffs, but he said he would rather see his team focus on what’s right in front of them instead of something three weeks away.
“Our goal is just to win today, to go out and give our best effort today. That’s going to set us up for the future,” Saylor said. “There’s no need to scoreboard watch. The race is tight. If you start looking ahead and start to falter, that’s when you lose it.”
Notes: Wednesday’s game also provided some frightening moments that accounted for three seperate ambulance trips to Gesa Stadium.
In the fourth inning, Spokane outfielders Jose Cardona and Luke Tendler collided in right center field, sending Cardona to the hospital with a concussion.
Cardona, a 20-year-old in his fourth year in the Texas Rangers’ system, was hitting .323 with eight RBIs and seven runs in 16 games.
After the seventh inning, another Indians player — pitcher Darrell Hunter, a rookie free agent out of the University of Oregon — had a seizure in the dugout and was unconscious for roughly a minute, according to reports.
He returned to Gesa Stadium after being treated at Kadlec Medical Center in Richland, but suffered another seizure in the clubouse following the game around 1 a.m.
Indians manager Tim Hulett was happy to report that both players were resting comfortably in the team hotel Thursday night and should be 100 percent eventually.
“I’ve got to tip my hat to our trainer, Zach Jones. He did a fantastic job. He showed a lot of calmness and maturity. I appreciate the Tri-City people who were on top of it. Really first class,” Hulett said. “I had a meeting (Thursday), and I told the guys I was proud of the way they handled adversity. That’s a lot of adversity for a team to deal with. My hat is off to the guys. They stayed focused when they took the game into the 14th inning. It could have been easy in the 14th inning to say let’s cash this one out. But they didn’t do that. They just went out and played baseball.”
w Jack Millikin; 582-1406; email@example.com