Breaks are part of baseball, and the Tri-City Dust Devils got a few of them late Thursday night during a 6-4 Northwest League loss to the Hillsboro Hops in front of 1,773 fans at Gesa Stadium.
Perhaps just not enough of them. Or maybe Hillsboro got a few more when it counted.
“You can say life is like that, being in the right place at the right time, getting the right opportunities,” Dust Devils skipper Drew Saylor said. “Early on what killed us was leadoff walks, but that’s part of our pitchers’ maturation as professionals.”
Tri-City pitchers dealt two leadoff walks, both of which came around to score, and a leadoff home run. But the Hops did a fine job capitalizing on scoring chances, scoring three runs in the top of the third to take a 3-0 lead.
The Dust Devils scraped together runs in the fifth and sixth innings, but Hillsboro kept adding to its lead and never trailed.
Tri-City did put itself in a position to tie or perhaps even win the game in both the eighth and ninth innings. Hops pitchers loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth before reliever Patrick Smith uncorked a wild pitch to score Kyle Von Tungeln and cut Hillsboro’s lead to 6-3. Smith walked Ashley Graeter to re-load the bases, and Sean Dwyer drove in Mike Tauchman with an RBI grounder to make it 6-4.
Patrick Valaika, a ninth-round draft pick out of UCLA, then drove a ball hard to left field with the wind blowing out, but it was tracked down near the edge of the warning track by left fielder Brian Billigen.
“I thought it had a chance, but he didn’t get enough of it,” Saylor said.
The Dust Devils threatened again in the ninth when Patrick Hutcheson looped a one-out double to center field and took third on a dropped third strike that allowed Chris O’Dowd to reach first.
That brought up Tauchman, who represented the winning run. But Tauchman fell behind Hops closer Daniel Gibson 0-2 and grounded to second baseman John Leonard to end the game.
“One thing you can call a moral victory is that we continue to prove to be fighters,” Saylor said. “One of these days we’re going to figure out how to win these types of games.”
Tri-City (11-16) remained eight games behind North Division leader Everett (19-8), which lost 6-3 to Eugene. With just 11 games remaining in the first-half, the Dust Devils’ chances of a first-half championship are being whittled down to almost nil.
“That’s not even in our thought process,” Saylor said.
Zach Esquerra led Hillsboro on offense, going 2-for-5 with two RBIs, including a solo home run to lead off the sixth inning.
Yoimer Camacho (3-2) got the win for the Hops, allowing one run in three innings of relief.
Jonathan Vargas (1-1), who allowed three runs on five hits in five innings, took the loss for Tri-City.