With hopes of a first-half championship drained, the Tri-City Dust Devils got a big boost on their second-half fortunes with an emotional 5-4 victory over the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes on Saturday at Gesa Stadium.
Alec Mehrten hit a soft two-out liner into right field to drive in Francisco Sosa to give the Dust Devils their third consecutive victory over the Volcanoes and give Tri-City a shot of confidence with a remarkable comeback victory.
As Mehrten’s hit dropped in behind second baseman Sam Eberle, Dust Devils’ manager and third-base coach Fred Ocasio waved Sosa around third base despite the outfield playing in.
“I was going to send (Sosa) no matter what,” Ocasio said. “(Eberle) was playing way in, but I was going to make him make a perfect throw. He ended up short-hopping it to the catcher, and Sosa slid underneath.”
After Sosa slid in safe, the team raced out to Mehrten, who was making his way around second base. When they caught up to Mehrten, a 25th-round draft pick out of Fresno Pacific University, he was surrounded by a sea happy teammates.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. This is what you play for,” Mehrten said seconds before a teammate greeted him with a face full of shaving cream. “This team, more than any I’ve ever seen, just battles,” he said. “It’s going to be a good second half.”
Tri-City starter Shane Broyles pitched six brilliant innings, allowing no runs on just four hits. He was matched frame-for-frame, however, by Salem-Keizer starter Joe Biagini, who allowed only one hit over six scoreless.
The Volcanoes led off the scoring in the top of the seventh inning when Mike Mergenthaler led off with a triple to right center field off reliever Ryan Arrowood and scored on a one-out single by Sam Eberle to make it 1-0 S-K.
The Dust Devils evened things up in the bottom of the eighth against Volcanoes reliever Lorenzo Mendoza. Shortstop Zach Osborne hit a one-out double down the line in left field and went to third on Yafistel Roja’s infield single. Kyle Von Tungeln then battled Mendoza during a nine-pitch at-bat before singling to left to tie the score at 1.
Salem-Keizer scored three runs in the top of the ninth inning, but Tri-City rallied back to tie the score in the bottom of the ninth thanks to RBI singles by Mehrten and Yafistel Roja, and an game-tying RBI walk to Rosell Herrera.
Tom Murphy came up to bat with the bases loaded against reliever Stephen Johnson, who walked Kyle Von Tungeln and Herrera on eight consecutive pitches. After throwing two more balls to Murphy, Johnson struck out Murphy to send the game into extra innings.
The late-inning scoring flurry overshadowed a pair of fine pitching performances by Dust Devils starter Shane Broyles and Salem-Keizer’s Joe Biagini.
Broyles, the Northwest League pitcher of the week last week, allowed just four hits over six scoreless innings, while Biagini matched him frame-for-frame, giving up just one hit in six shutout frames. Neither factored into the decision.
Brook Hart (4-1) got the win for the Dust Devils, while Johnson (0-1) took the loss.
Notes: Today’s pitching matchups will be RHP Tyler Gagnon (0-1, 2.00 ERA) against RHP Joan Gregorio (3-3, 4.86). ... The American flag past the left-center field wall flew at half mast in memory of the recent shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colo. ... Von Tungeln’s diving catch in center field on Joe Rapp’s line drive deserved a spot on ESPN’s Top-10. ... The Everett AquaSox wrapped up the first-half West Division championship with a 2-1 victory over the Bears on Friday night at County Stadium in Yakima. ... Dust Devils alumni update: RHP Christian Bergman (2011) improved to 13-5 on the year, allowing 4 hits over six innings in the Modesto Nuts’ 14-0 road win over Lake Elsinore. Josh Mueller (2011) tossed three scoreless innings for the save, and Juan Crousset (2010), Jayson Langfels (2010-11) and Dallas Tarleton (2009) combined for five hits, seven runs and seven RBIs.