Tri-City Dust Devils manager Fred Ocasio has never been afraid of a squeeze play.
He liked them enough Sunday to call back-to-back safety squeezes during a four-run fourth-inning rally that eventually led to a 5-4 Northwest League victory over the Spokane Indians in front of 1,750 fans at Gesa Stadium.
What was especially gratifying for the two-time NWL Manager of the Year is that the team worked on a particular squeeze situation during pregame warmups.
“I like to squeeze, but I haven’t done it yet this year,” Ocasio said. “Today we got to put it into practice.”
With Tri-City trailing 4-0 after 31⁄2 innings, Spokane starter Connor Sadzeck walked Francisco Sosa and hit Miguel De Leon to lead off the bottom of the fourth. Derek Jones then doubled to the wall in right center field to drive in Sosa and send De Leon to third.
Jarod Berggren, the Dust Devils’ No. 6 hitter, then laid down a perfect bunt halfway between first base and the pitcher’s mound, legging out a hit while De Leon came in to cut the lead to 4-2.
That brought up Patrick Hutcheson, who got the sign from Ocasio to bunt down the third-base side, putting third baseman Smerling Lantigua in a tough situation.
He could check Jones at third, but that would put Berggren on second in scoring position and maybe allow Hutcheson to reach first. Or he could make the throw to first but run the risk of Jones scoring from third.
Lantigua chose the throw to first, and Jones stayed right on his hip, watching the whole way. Once the throw was made, Jones took off and scored to cut the lead to 4-3.
Berggren took third on the play.
“I was pretty happy for it to work the first time we tried it. It was a perfect spot to try it out,” said Jones, who finished 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored. “It shows that (Ocasio) has confidence in us, not only to keep developing guys but to do everything we can to win.”
Anthony Aguilera then hit a long flyball to centerfield, scoring Berggren to tie it at 4.
The Dust Devils went ahead 5-4 in the bottom of the eighth, as Rosell Herrera — making his NWL debut after being reassigned from Asheville (N.C.) — led off the inning with a walk. A wild pitch from Spokane reliever Cody Kendall advanced him to second. Francisco Sosa moved him to third with a grounder to short.
Another wild pitch from Kendall brought Herrera home and gave Tri-City the lead.
“The guys only had five hits, but we were able to manufacture runs with the short game,” Ocasio said. “You’re not always going to be able to have 14 hits and nine runs.”
The Dust Devils (12-12), which have won seven of their last eight games, stayed two games behind Yakima (14-10) in the East Division standings.
Spokane took advantage of a first-inning error by Dust Devils shortsop Rosell Herrera, who short-hopped a throw to first, allowing leadoff batter Hirotoshi Onaka to reach. Two batters later, Ryan Rua hit a one-out triple down the right field line to drive in Onaka and give Spokane a 1-0 lead.
Tri-City starter Peter Tago struggled with his control in the top of the third, walking Gabriel Roa to lead off the frame. Then came back-to-back singles by Rua and Royce Bolinger to load the bases. All came in to score, but Tago didn’t get rattled.
“Honestly, that didn’t faze me. They were just timing up my fastball,” Tago said. “Sometimes you have good stuff, and sometimes you don’t.”
Two innings later, his team was back in the game.
Tago left after 94 pitches, and Ryan Arrowood followed with 21⁄3 scoreless innings to earn the win. Seth Willoughby tossed a scoreless ninth to pick up his second save.
“I like the way we rallied and took advantage of their mistakes,” Willoughby said. “That’s the sign of a good ballclub.”
Notes: Pitching matchups for today will be RHP Shane Broyles (1-0, 2.25 ERA) for Tri-City against RHP Abel De Los Santos (3-1, 0.86) for Spokane. ... Dust Devils OF Sosa went 0-for-3, snapping an eight-game hitting streak. He also snapped a seven-game streak of driving in at least one run. He did, however, reach base for the 14th consecutive game. ... Tri-City OF Kyle Von Tungeln went 1-for-3 and has a hit in every game he’s appeared in since his professional debut on July 2. ... Dust Devils C Tom Murphy, who has been nursing a hamstring injury since June 25, could be back in the lineup as early as Wednesday.