The Tri-City Dust Devils have been known throughout the years for solid pitching.
But it was clutch hitting that took them down Saturday night in a 5-3 loss to the Everett AquaSox at Gesa Stadium.
Chris Taylor, a fourth-round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners out of the University of Virginia, fought off a tough 3-1 pitch from Tri-City reliever Chris Reid and drove an opposite-field, two-run single into right field to break a 3-3 ninth-inning tie.
“It was actually a good pitch. It was a fastball low and away. I just tried to stay down on it, and it found a hole,” said Taylor, who went 3-for-4 and is hitting .600 in his first two games as a professional. “It’s only two games, but it’s nice to start off swinging the bat well.”
Tri-City fell to 0-2 to start the season, but manager Fred Ocasio wasn’t too worried about the record. He was, however, slightly discouraged by the loss after fighting back from a 3-0 deficit to tie the score in the eighth.
“It was a tough loss. Offensively, we couldn’t get much going early, but we got some big at bats later on,” Ocasio said. “(Michael) Ramirez had a two-strike, two-out RBI to tie the score, and (Francisco) Sosa and (Yafistel) Roja each had three hits.
“It’s just tough because we battled all the way back.”
After testing Dust Devils starter Josh Slaats in the first inning, Everett sent seven batters to the plate and forced Slaats to throw 35 pitches in the second.
Everett’s Marcus Littlewood drew a one-out walk and took second on a bloop single by David Villasuso. Both advanced on an infield grounder by Ketel Marte before Slaats threw a high fastball to Jamodrick McGruder that got away from catcher Michael Ramirez.
Littlewood scored on the passed ball, and Villasuso took third. McGruder then made it 2-0 with a single up the middle to score Villasuso.
“I’m not sure what was going on with Slaats, but in our system, once you throw 35 pitches in an inning, you can’t come back out,” Ocasio said.
Slaats was replaced by right-hander Chris Dennis, who was solid in relief, allowing a run on two hits in 3 2/3 innings. Eric Federico also offered up 2 1/3 shutout innings for Tri-City.
The AquaSox added a run off Dennis in the third after a leadoff double by Taylor Ard, a seventh-round draft pick out of Washington State. Ard advanced to third on a flyball to center by Alfredo Morales and scored on Patrick Kivlehan’s infield grounder to make it 3-0.
Tri-City got on the board in the bottom of the fourth, when Sosa turned on a 1-1 fastball from Marcos Reyna. It was the first home run of the year by a Dust Devils player and cut the deficit to 3-1.
“I was looking for a good pitch,” said Sosa, who explained — through teammate Robert De La Cruz — that he isn’t always looking for the long ball. “My only goal is to help the team and try to help us score runs.”
Tri-City has struggled to drive in runs through the first two games, hitting just 3-for-19 with runners in scoring position. But the Dust Devils scrapped together runs in the seventh and eight innings to tie the score at 3.
“We have to take good turns,” Sosa said. “We have to concentrate when there’s men on base.”
In the seventh, Tri-City took advantage of back-to-back walks by AquaSox reliever Reyna, the last of which drove in Ramirez to cut it to 3-2. In the eighth inning, Sosa hit a one-out infield single and stole second before coming home on Ramirez’s two-out bloop single down the left field line to tie the score at 3.
Notes: Today’s pitching matchups will be Tri-City RHP Ben Hughes against Everett RHP Dylan Unsworth. ... Dust Devils OF Jaron Shepherd was put on the 7-day disabled list with a broken fifth metatarsal (pinky finger) on his right hand. He was hit by a pitch in his first at bat during Friday’s Opening Day loss. ... Tri-City SS Zach Osborne was taken to the emergency room for treatment after taking a bad-hop grounder in the face during pregame infield drills. He is considered day-to-day. ... When former Washington State stars Derek Jones and Matt Argyropoulos came up to bat for the Dust Devils, the WSU fight song blared from the loudspeakers as their walk-up music. ... Dust Devils alumni update: LHP Edwar Cabrera (2010) allowed just one unearned run on three hits in eight innings to improve to 7-4 on the year and lift the Tulsa Drillers to a 3-1 road win over the Arkansas Travelers. ... SS Josh Rutledge (2010) hit his ninth home run of the year.