Two more home games left in the season. Hard to believe. It feels like only a few weeks ago it was just a few weeks ago that the team arrived in Pasco to begin the summer.
The Dust Devils showed some heart last night despite being eliminated from playoff contention the night before, beating Eugene 5-4 on an eighth-inning squeeze bunt from Yafistel Roja.
Tom Murphy also blasted his fifth home run of the year to tie it at 4.
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Tonight, it's a pair of big Midwesterners battling it out on the mound — Tri-City's T.J. Oakes, 6-foot-5 a right-hander out of the University of Minnesota, will go against Eugene's Justin Hancock, a 6-4 righty out of Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.
Oakes (1-2, 4.40 ERA) picked up his first pro win just over three weeks ago and is looking to even his record up. Hancock (5-2, 1.68) has one of the best winning percentages in the Northwest League.
Both pitchers deliver big goose eggs through the first three innings, but Oakes is in some trouble in the top of the fourth.
Jeremy Baltz, the Emeralds' No. 3 hitter, lays down a bunt single to lead off the inning and takes second on a walk to Dane Phillips. Maxx Tissenbaum grounded a ball between first and second to load the bases. Gabriel Quintana then hits a grounder to second baseman Patrick Hutcheson, who steps on second base and throws to first for the double play. But Baltz comes home with the first run of the game, and Phillips moves to third.
Felix Cabrera, who smashed a two-run home run off the scoreboard last night, drops a bunt single down the third base side to bring home Phillips for a 2-0 Eugene lead.
Tri-City comes back in the top of the fourth, getting a leadoff double from Rosell Herrera and then a one-out RBI single by Matt Argyropoulos to cut the lead to 2-1.
Hancock throws a ball to the next batter, Dillon Thomas, but then gets yanked by manager Pat Murphy in favor of reliever Genison Reyes. You don't see that very often — a pitcher being replaced in the middle of a count, but Murphy has been known to fly in the face of tradition from time to time.
The move worked, more or less. Reyes ended up walking Thomas on a 3-2 count but struck out Miguel De Leon and Derek Jones to end the inning.
Eugene tacks on two more runs in the top of the fifth, getting a leadoff double by Stephen Carmon, a one-out RBI triple by Baltz and an RBI single by Phillips to extend the Emeralds' lead to 4-1.
Boise can clinch the second-half East Division title tonight with a win over Vancouver and a Yakima loss to Everett. Things appear to be headed in that direction. The Hawks are beating the Canadians 8-4 in the bottom of the seventh, and the AquaSox lead the Bears 3-2 after six.
An RBI grounder by Kyle Von Tungeln in the bottom of the seventh gets Tri-City a little bit closer at 4-2. The Dust Devils left a couple ducks on the pond, however.
Too many opportunities being left on the table. That's one big reason this team missed the playoffs this season.
Tri-City converts an opportunity in the ninth inning, when Eugene second baseman River Stevens double-pumps a throw on Rosell Herrera's ground ball, allowing him to beat the throw. That moved Alec Mehrten to second and brought Tom Murphy to the plate.
Murphy made the Emeralds pay, driving a double to the wall in right center field and plating Mehrten and Herrera to tie the score at 4.
But the Dust Devils committed a critical error of their own in the top of the 11th inning after a one-out bunt single by Alberth Martinez, the No. 9 hitter. Martinez stole second, but Herrera couldn't recover Murphy's throw, which skittered into center field as Martinez took third with one out.
The next batter, Stephen Carmon, brought in Martinez with a grounder to second. That put Eugene up 5-4.
Dust Devils can't get anything going in the bottom half of the 11th, and that does it. Emeralds win 5-4.
By the way, Boise did wrap up the second-half East Division crown, beating Vancouver 8-6. Yakima helped out, losing 3-2 in Everett.
I think that's appropriate, though. Yakima was by far the class of the East in the first half, and Boise may be the best team in either league in the second half. I'm looking forward to that series come September.
We'll do it one more time from Gesa Stadium tomorrow. Come out to the stadium if you get a chance and maybe be a part of a record.