It was a pitchers’ duel in every sense of the phrase.
The Tri-City Dust Devils and Salem-Keizer Volcanoes went to the ninth inning of Thursday’s game at Gesa Stadium scoreless. Then the 10th. Then the 11th. Then the 12th.
And then the Volcanoes broke through, plating Kevin Rivera on a seeing-eye single by Ryan Kirby, then bringing home Manuel Geraldo on a ball punched through the 5 1/2 hole by Juan Rodriguez for the only runs in the 2-0 opener of the five-game, wrap-around weekend series.
Game 2 gets underway at 7:15 p.m. Friday with Alejandro De La Rosa going for Salem-Keizer (5-10) and Henry Henry toeing the rubber for Tri-City (10-5).
The winning runs were set up by a bit of gamesmanship from the Volcanoes. Rivera led off the top of the 12th with a single to left, then the speedy Geraldo showed bunt, Tri-City’s corner infielders crashed hard, and Geraldo pulled back and slapped a ball over the head of first baseman Bryant Aragon to put runners at the corners with nobody out.
“Little unfortunate luck there in the 12th,” Dust Devils manager Ben Fritz said. “We run a crash play there, and they execute a slash and hit it right down the line. Hindsight maybe don’t run the crash play, they give us an out and have a runner on second.”
The Dust Devils didn’t roll over in the bottom of the inning, getting the tying run on base, represented by Chandler Seagle. But Seagle and Chris Mattison, who drew a one-out walk, were just the team’s second and third base runners from the seventh inning on, as the team accumulated only six hits and got eight men aboard.
“We need one big hit,” said Fritz, whose team mustered just four hits in a 6-1 loss to the Spokane Indians on Wednesday. “It’s contagious, man. This game, we’re riding high on a winning streak, and somebody stepped up each time. ... And when you have a couple times in a row where you don’t get the clutch knock, it just starts to go down. You’ve gotta get somebody to be a spark, and then everybody runs with it.”
Ben Scheckler improved upon his first start of the season — 4 1/3 IP-5H-2R-2K-2BB June 23 vs. Everett — by giving up just one hit and walking two over five innings for Tri-City. Dalton Erb, who goes eye-to-eye with Scheckler at 6-foot-8, struggled with his command early, but scattered two hits and two walks over two scoreless innings, allowing Jose Galindo to allow just two base runners over three to get Tri-City through the 10th.
Evan Miller (2-1) took the loss for Tri-City, as he worked the 11th and 12th.
Asked if any of his pitchers were particularly impressive, Fritz replied “All of ‘em. Sheck went five strong, we threw 11 innings of shutout ball.”
Heath Slatton (2-1) gave up just one hit and struck out six over three innings to get the win, and Vic Black, who has a 2.96 ERA in 59 career MLB games for the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets, got the save by (eventually) striking out the side in the 12th. Julio Benitez scattered four hits over his 5 2/3 -inning start, and Luis Pino fired 2 1/3 innings of perfect relief.
Tri-City’s defensive effort was highlighted by its catcher, Seagle, who in addition to not letting a ball get by him behind the plate, threw out 3-of-5 Salem-Keizer would-be base stealers.
“That’s kind of been the status quo for him since he got here,” Fritz said. “He’s blocking his butt off and throwing out runners that try to go on him. Even one of the stolen bases I thought could have gone the other way, but yeah, he’s putting the ball on the bag with a good time.
“You give him a chance on the mound, he’s gonna throw a lot of guys out.”
Seagle also went 2-for-5 at the plate to improve his batting average to .353.