Tri-City Dust Devils

Dust Devils drop Game 1 of NWL finals

PASCO -- The Tri-City Dust Devils hopped on a bus for Vancouver, British Columbia, late Friday night after their 6-3 Game 1 loss to the Vancouver Canadians in the Northwest League Championship Series at Gesa Stadium.

Along with their bats, gloves and spikes, the Dust Devils hoped to carry a win across the border. Instead, they might need to pack a miracle or two, as they need to win both games at Nat Bailey Stadium to earn their first NWL championship.

"We've got to go up there and win two," said Tri-City manager Fred Ocasio. "They came in and beat us at home, but we're capable of doing the same thing."

Game 2 is at 7:05 p.m. today at Nat Bailey.

Tri-City will start right-hander Christian Bergman (7-5, 2.59 ERA), a NWL all-star who pitched two complete games this season and tied for the league lead with seven victories.

Bergman will go against Vancouver right-hander Blake McFarland (6-7, 5.32), who was 1-1 with a 6.10 in two starts against the Dust Devils.

Game 3, if necessary, will be at 1:05 p.m. Sunday at Nat Bailey. Tri-City right-hander Tyler Gagnon would get the start.

The Dust Devils' locker room was a somber, quiet place after Friday's game, but the players still had hope that they could live up to their goal of winning a NWL title.

"It will be difficult, but our guys are up to the task," said Tri-City left fielder Jaron Shepherd, who went 2-for-4 and drove in the team's first run in the second inning with a single to right to cut the lead to 3-1.

But that run came after a pumped-up Vancouver squad put up three runs in the first inning off Dust Devils starter Ben Alsup.

Canadians leadoff man Jon Berti struck out on a wild pitch from Alsup but reached first when the ball got away from catcher Ryan Casteel. Kevin Pillar then singled to left, and Nick Baligod followed with a hard grounder to second baseman Tim Smalling.

But Smalling, playing his first game in two weeks after returning from an elbow injury, misplayed the ball for an error, leaving the bases loaded and nobody out.

"The ball just came up on him and bounced away," Ocasio said. "If we get a double play there, maybe they score one run instead of three."

Kevin Patterson, Vancouver's cleanup hitter, then smashed a two-run double over center fielder Brian Humphries to give the Canadians a 2-0 lead. Roan Salas then hit a sacrifice fly to Humphries to drive in Baligod to make it 3-0.

"When we played them at home, they had the best pitching in the league," Vancouver skipper Rich Miller said. "When you get four or five outs in an inning, you have to take advantage."

From there, the teams traded runs over the next few innings. Pillar blasted a solo home run off Alsup to lead off the third before Tri-City scored twice in the bottom of the third to cut the lead to 4-3.

Tyler Massey drew a two-out walk off Canadians starter Ajay Meyer and scored from first on Jared Simon's double to the wall in left center field. Simon then scored on Leonardo Reyes' single to center.

"Our bats showed some signs of life. We just didn't take care of the ball," Simon said. "We need to go up there and pitch well and do what we've been doing all year.

"We've won two in a row plenty of times this year. It's not that big a deal."

Alsup allowed two more runs in the top of the sixth on a solo homer by Baligod and then an RBI single from Balbino Fuenmayor later in the inning.

Alsup took the loss, allowing six runs -- five earned -- on eight hits over six innings before Chris Jensen relieved him with three scoreless innings.

Meyer was making his NWL debut after a recent call-up from the Appalachian League. He came through in a big way, earning the win after giving up three runs in five innings. Aleson Escalante was even more impressive in relief, tossing four scoreless innings for his first postseason save.

Vancouver's win continued an amazing postseason run after finishing the second half with a miserable 4-17 record on the road. But so far, the Canadians are 3-0 in postseason road games.

"All we were hearing is how we snuck into the playoffs," said Miller, who watched his team win the final two games of the West Divisional Series in Eugene to earn a spot in the championship series. "We wanted to prove we deserved to be here."