The Tri-City Dust Devils have been looking for their rhythm all season long.
They appear to have found it just in time to make a run at the second half Northwest League North Division title.
The Dust Devils parlayed a strong start by Joel Payamps and a clutch hit by Rabago into a 1-0 victory over the Spokane Indians on Friday night in front of 3,164 fans at Gesa Stadium.
“We got tired of losing. We’ve been a good team (and) we’re a really good team in the second half,” Tri-City shortstop Chris Rabago said. “We just want to win. We want to get that playoff spot.
“We battled and took care of business and got a win. That’s all that matters.”
Tri-City (11-11 second half, 25-35 overall) grabbed a one-game lead over Everett (10-12, 21-39), which lost 4-0 in Vancouver. The AquaSox and Canadians are tied for second place in the North, while Spokane (9-13, 34-26) dropped two games back in fourth.
Payamps, making his sixth appearance and fifth start after coming back from a shoulder injury, looked strong in lowering his ERA over two full points from 6.94 to 4.86. He got some help from his defense, which recorded double plays to keep him out of trouble in the first and third inning, but his poise and presence were enough to keep the Dust Devils out of trouble.
“It all started with Payamps. He had really good timing and real good rhythm,” Tri-City manager Drew Saylor said. “He attacked the zone and stayed down, so he was able to sit there and attack hitters. It was nice to see him reap the rewards of some of the work he’s been doing.”
Payamps struggled in his previous two starts, giving up eight earned runs in 4 2/3 innings, but Saylor noticed a different man on the mound Friday.
“When he came in, he filled the zone with strikes,” Saylor said. “He had a different demeanor on the mound. Hopefully we’ll see that guy a little more often.”
Also impressive was Spokane starter Derek Thompson, who scattered five hits over six innings with eight strikeouts. But the Dust Devils took advantage when he departed, scoring the game’s only run off reliever Nick Dignacco in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Ryan Garvey led off the seventh with a single to left and took second on a sacrifice bunt by Renaldo Jenkins. Garvey advanced to third on an infield grounder by Robbie Perkins, bringing up Rabago.
Rabago, a 13th-round draft pick out of UC Irvine, got a first-pitch curveball from Dignacco and looped it into short right field, scoring Garvey for a 1-0 lead.
“In the back of my mind, I was thinking I had to hit something hard and let the (Spokane) position players make a play,” Rabago said.
Saylor said Rabago’s attitude has been critical to the Dust Devils’ success this year and will be even more important going forward.
“He did a great job staying with his approach and sticking with who he is,” Saylor said. “He’s a straight up blue-collar baseball player, a guy you don’t see very often anymore in the game. He just goes out and puts his heart on the line.”
Jacob Newberry and Jerad McCrummen combined for three scoreless innings of relief after Payamps, and Scott Firth came in to close out the ninth.
Firth, a NWL All-Star, set down Spokane’s 1-2-3 hitters — Eduard Pinto, Diego Cedeno and Seth Spivey — in order for his 10th save of the year.
“He’s been really good at staying down in the zone and throwing all of his pitches for strikes,” Saylor said. “He threw some big pitches with his offspeed, which shows the confidence he has to be able to throw them for strikes.”
w Jack Millikin; 582-1406; firstname.lastname@example.org