Cliches often ring true in sports, and never more so has “one game at a time” struck home with the Tri-City Dust Devils.
The Dust Devils returned home from Hillsboro on Friday afternoon, bruised but not beaten following a 2-1 loss to the Hops in Game 1 of the Northwest League championship series.
“All around, it was a pretty competitive game. Our pitchers came out throwing really well. It just came down to one or two bad plays,” Tri-City first baseman Ty France said after going 2-for-4 in Thursday’s game. “Regardless of whether you’re at home or away, winning Game 1 puts you in the driver’s seat.”
The loss puts Tri-City in a hole, no doubt, but the Dust Devils can pull even with a Game 2 victory against Hillsboro at 7:15 p.m. today at Gesa Stadium, where they posted the best home record in the NWL at 25-13 during the regular season.
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Game 3, if necessary, will be 7:15 p.m. Sunday at Gesa.
“I think that will make a difference. We’re more comfortable playing on our home field with the home fans supporting us,” France said. “We know how our field plays.”
One of the biggest strengths of Tri-City all year was their ability to maintain perspective. Even after a rocky August, when the team went 11-16 and lost 10 of its last 15 in the month, the cohesive group never lost focus of the big picture. As a result, the Dust Devils finished out the regular season on a high note, winning their last six games.
“We never hit the panic button,” second baseman Kodie Tidwell said. “We don’t play too high. We don’t play too low.”
Now more than ever, the Dust Devils need that even-keel approach for today’s Game 2.
“That’s what I’ve been stressing. Everything I learned over my nine years of playing, all my mistakes, I’m passing (the knowledge) on to them,” Tri-City manager Anthony Contreras said. “Where I was as a player, I want these guys to get there in their first season. They’re learning how the chess game works. They’re steps above me at this point.”
One telling stat: The Dust Devils are 8-3 after losing games by one run, 3-0 when playing those games at home. So Tri-City is due for a bounce-back game against the defending NWL champion Hops.
The pitching matchup will be a good one for Game 2. Hillsboro will start left-hander Cody Reed (5-4, 3.27 ERA, 72 strikeouts), who went 1-0 in two starts against Tri-City, allowing the Dust Devils just three hits over 91/3 scoreless innings. Reed, 19, was a second-round draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014 out of Ardmore (Ala.) High School.
“Reed has gone deep against us, holding us to just a couple of hits, but this is a different beast now. Everybody’s locked in,” Contreras said.
Tri-City will counter with right-hander Emmanuel Ramirez (2-1, 3.00, 25 Ks), who is coming off his best start of the season, when he struck out 10 batters over five innings in a 9-2 home win over Spokane. Ramirez, 21, has won his past two starts.
Dust Devils outfielder Henry Charles has caught fire in the playoffs, hitting 7-for-15 (.467) with three doubles in three games. Hillsboro outfielder Grant Heyman is batting 8-for-18 (.444) with two doubles and a triple in four games.
▪ Some Tri-City fans grumbled about the appearance of Hillsboro starting pitcher Brett Shankin, who was transferred from the Triple-A Reno Aces roster on Sept. 8, thinking his start in Game 1 gave the Hops an unfair advantage. Shankin, a 25-year-old right-hander, threw seven innings in the opener, giving up just five hits while striking out five but did not figure in the decision. Contreras didn’t believe the Hops played “dirty pool” by bringing in Shankin, who started the season with the Hops, going 1-0 with a 0.60 ERA in three appearances.
“People want me to make it a bigger deal than it was. He was picked up in independent ball, and that’s what happened to me,” Contreras said. “You’re not a prospect anymore, so the organization can move you around as they see fit. He was just another pitcher. We were still having good at-bats against him, and we’ve faced better pitchers this year.”