Tri-City Dust Devils

Plenty to cheer after Dust Devils' fine year

The Tri-City Dust Devils will feel the sting for a while.

To come within one game of a Northwest League title only to fall short on the final day of the season, it leaves a hole.

"It's quiet (in the locker room), but there's nothing we can do. It's over with," Dust Devils pitcher Tyler Gagnon said after he took the loss in Game 3 of the NWL championship series Sunday in Vancouver. "We have to learn from it and move on."

Time will eventually heal the wounds of watching the Canadians celebrate their first title following Sunday's 9-3 win at Nat Bailey Stadium. Once they can put it behind them, Tri-City players will be able to step back and revel in the memories of the best Dust Devils season yet.

"This team was a great group of guys. We all bonded well on and off the field," Gagnon said. "The fans at home helped make it a great overall experience."

The fans reflected the Tri-City's success at Gesa Stadium, setting a franchise attendance record (85,953) for the fifth consecutive season and breaking the single-game mark with 3,811 in the regular-season finale.

But what the team did on the field set the standard for Dust Devils baseball. Tri-City had the NWL's best home record at 28-10 as well as the league's second-best overall record at 44-32. The Dust Devils won the first-half title in the East Division.

Then, to prove they were still motivated, won the second half, too.

"This was a great bunch of kids. We had a lot of fun winning both halves," said Tri-City manager Fred Ocasio, who was honored as the NWL manager of the year. "This was a team that battled all year long. They never gave up.

"I'll always remember the two celebrations we had (first- and second-half division titles). We just came up one short."

Pitchers Christian Bergman and Ken Roberts were named to the NWL All-Star team after outstanding seasons. Roberts was third in the league with 10 saves and finished 4-2 with a 1.86 ERA.

Bergman exemplified the league's best staff with a 7-5 record and a 2.59 ERA in 15 starts. Bergman tied teammate Nelson Gonzalez for a league-high seven wins and led the league with 97 1/3 innings. The second-year pro also put together a string of 31 scoreless innings, falling one inning short of a 35-year old NWL record, and tossed two complete-game shutouts.

In all, the Dust Devils staff combined for 10 shutouts in the regular season to tie a NWL record and recorded one more against Boise in the NWL divisional playoffs. Under first-year pitching coach Dave Burba, Tri-City posted league lows in hits (7.9), runs (3.74) and walks (2.93) allowed per game.

The staff also recorded the lowest ERA (3.03) in Colorado Rockies' short-season history, topping the 2006 Tri-City club by .01 point.

The team was also outstanding on defense, leading the league with a .972 fielding percentage and a league-low 83 errors.

On offense, there was no one player who stood out from beginning to end. Instead, under hitting coach Anthony Sanders, every single player contributed in their own way whether it be a clutch hit, a stolen base or a sacrifice bunt.

Infielder Tim Smalling led the league with seven triples and 19 doubles, and first baseman Jordan Ribera was leading the league in RBIs and home runs before he suffered a groin injury that kept him out for a month.

Tyler Massey had a strong finish, leading the team with seven home runs and 46 RBIs, and Jaron Shepherd hit .471 in the playoffs to spark the offense.

For many players, it was their first taste of professional baseball, and they all had their chance to shine. Outfielder Brian Humphries, who finished tied for fifth in the NWL with 45 runs scored and tied for the team lead with 12 stolen bases, won't ever forget his first pro homer -- a grand slam on Aug. 10.

It was one of three Tri-City grand slams this season, the others coming from Massey and Jordan Ballard.

"Until I hit my first homer in the major league's, that's what I'll remember," Humphries said. "Tri-City has been very good to me."