The last time the Tri-City Dust Devils swept a five-game Northwest League series, against Eugene in late August of 2007, manager Fred Ocasio underwent an instant fashion makeover, going from black to blond hair to motivate his team.
That probably isn’t going to happen again, even if Tri-City can complete a sweep against Salem-Keizer today — “I don’t have any hair,” Ocasio quipped — but there’s no denying that the Dust Devils are on the verge of something special.
Tri-City beat the Volcanoes 6-2 on Sunday night for its fourth consecutive victory and 10th in a row at Gesa Stadium, putting the Dust Devils in a positive mindset for what’s ahead.
“The guys are putting some good at-bats together,” Ocasio said. “I don’t think (10 home wins in a row) has ever happened. Now we’ve got to find a way to win on the road.”
Kyle Von Tungeln continued to produce at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI doubles and two runs scored. The 6-foot lefty out of TCU raised his average back up to .300, sparking a five-run outburst in the first two innings.
“This team is really clicking, especially in the clubhouse. It’s a close team that really fights for each other,” Von Tungeln said.
Von Tungeln drew a leadoff walk in the first and advanced to third on a throwing error by Salem-Keizer pitcher Joan Gregorio. He scored on a groundout by Rosell Herrera. Derek Jones made it 2-0 later in the first with an RBI double.
Salem-Keizer tied the score at 2 in the top of the second, but Von Tungeln drove in Alec Mehrten in the bottom of the inning with a double to left-center field and later scored on an RBI single by Tom Murphy to open up a 5-2 lead.
Herrera, who left the game after fouling a ball off his foot during a second-ining at-bat, drove in two runs. He is day-to-day, but Ocasio said he would likely get a chance to rest today.
“We don’t want to take any chances,” Ocasio said.
Meanwhile, Dust Devils starter Tyler Gagnon, making his second start of the year since returning from a strained right shoulder, didn’t have his best stuff with him but was steady enough to last five innings. Despite giving up nine hits, the 6-2 right-hander showed the same poise he was known for last year when he helped lead Tri-City to the East Division title.
“My goal was to go out and throw strikes and help the team win,” Gagnon said. “When I give up hits, that’s when I really have to bear down. I tried to force a lot of ground balls and let them get themselves out.”
Gagnon (1-1) earned the win, allowing two runs in five innings while walking just one.
Zach Osborne hit a leadoff single to open the fourth and scored from first on Von Tungeln’s double to the wall in left center. That made it 6-2.
Andrew Brown, Adam Paulencu and Matt Flemer combined for four innings of scoreless relief to secure the win.
Osborne also made a key defensive play in the top of the ninth. After Flemer walked leadoff man Joe Rapp and Dashenko Ricardo reached on an error, Osborne leaped to snag a hot liner by Mike Mergenthaler. The ball popped out of his glove at the apex of his jump, but Osborne recovered in time to catch it and throw to first to double off Ricardo.
“That was more of a second effort. I knew (the ball) was somewhere,” Osborne said. “It was great to have the opportunity to pick up my pitcher.”
Gregorio (3-4) took the loss for the Volcanoes, allowing five earned runs on three hits in just 11⁄3 innings.
Notes: Attendance was announced at 1,703. ... Today’s pitching matchups are RHP T.J. Oakes (0-0, 3.91 ERA) for Tri-City and RHP Raymundo Montero (3-3, 2.55) for Salem-Keizer. ... Dust Devils alumni update: SS Taylor Featherston (2011) went 3-for-4 with a run scored in Asheville’s 3-2 South Atlantic League home loss to Greensboro (N.C.). ... In the California League, OF Juan Crousset (2010) hit an RBI triple in the top of the 11th inning to give Modesto a 7-6 win at Lake Elsinore. LHP Isaiah Froneberger (2011) tossed three scoreless innings to improve to 5-1. ... OF Charlie Blackmon (2008, 2012) went 4-for-7 with four runs scored for Triple-A Colorado Springs, which completed a 9-6, 3-2 doubleheader sweep of Tacoma.