YAKIMA -- The Tri-City Dust Devils endured a pressure-filled run over the last 37 games, clawing their way into contention for the Northwest League first-half championship.
But they took a lot of pressure off themselves Sunday with a 10-4 win over the Yakima Bears at County Stadium. The Dust Devils (21-16) clinched the first-half title with the victory and can now concentrate on getting healthy for the NWL playoffs in September.
"The good thing is now we know we'll be in the playoffs. We've got 38 games to prepare," said Tri-City manager Fred Ocasio, who guided the team to NWL East Division championships in 2007 and 2009. "Now we have a chance to get guys some rest and get healthy."
Today marks the end of the first half, but the Dust Devils -- who have won 10 of their last 13 games -- hold a two-game lead over Spokane (19-18) in the East Division. Tri-City also held the tiebreaker over the Indians, having won 5-of-9 head-to-head against Spokane in the first half.
Against Yakima (13-24), the Dust Devils put this one away early, scoring five runs in the third inning and three more in the fifth to take an 8-2 lead.
Taylor Featherston capped the five-run outburst with a two-run, two-out single. Ryan Casteel and Jaron Shepherd also added RBI singles in the third.
Featherston added another RBI single in the fifth, followed by a two-run double by David Hernandez, who also stole two bases.
The offensive outburst was indicitative of a Tri-City team that has been able to generate runs when needed. Even though this was the same Dust Devils team that lost eight of nine games in early July, their recent winning trend couldn't have come at a better time.
"When we went to Salem-Keizer and lost four of five games, we were thinking, 'There goes our chances,' " Ocasio said. "But that's the way baseball works. Anything can happen."
Featherston finished 3-of-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored. Casteel was also 3-of-5 and had two runs. Hernandez had two RBIs and two more hits to raise his team-high average to .325.
Dust Devils starter Vianney Mayo (2-1) allowed four runs -- three earned -- on seven hits to get the win, and Ching-Lung Lo and Chris Dennis combined for 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.
Teo Gutierrez (3-1) took his first loss for Yakima, giving up eight runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings.
With two outs in the ninth inning, Dennis got Carter Bell to ground out to Featherston, who flipped the ball to Hernandez at second base for the final out. That sparked a Tri-City celebration just behind the pitchers mound, as players and coaches gathered to commemorate their first-half title.
"Everybody knew. We tried not to mention it, but the players aren't dumb," Ocasio said. "We knew the series in Spokane was a big one. After we took two of three there, it was a matter of winning one here."