If you weren’t at Gesa Stadium on Sunday night for the Tri-City Dust Devils’ 5-4 Northwest League win over Salem-Keizer, you missed out on one of the most dramatic walk-off victories the Dust Devils have ever put together.
But if you haven’t been to a Dust Devils game this season, you could be missing something special.
“I’ve seen a team like this before back in 1993. It was almost like an island-of-misfit-toys kind of thing,” Tri-City hitting coach Marvin Benard said of his experience with the Midwest League champion Clinton Giants. “Everybody gets along great. When that chemistry happens, it’s fun to come to the ballpark and play for each other. Things seem to happen because you trust each other.”
Tri-City (17-14) is one game behind first-place Everett (18-13) in the NWL North Division but appears to be finding another gear after going 6-7 in June. The Dust Devils are 11-7 in July and averaging over 5 1/2 runs per game this year.
The most runs any Dust Devils team has ever scored was the 2009 Dust Devils who won the NWL East crown and reached the NWL championship series. That team scored 398 runs over 76 games, an average of 5.24 runs a game.
For sure, two of the most exciting runs of the year came on Austin Allen’s two-run walk-off double Sunday night. With Tri-City trailing 4-3 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Allen connected on a 2-2 pitch from S-K reliever E.J. Encinosa, sending it deep to right-center field where Volcanoes outfielder Ronnie Jebavy made a diving attempt at the wall.
“When I was rounding first, I thought (Jebavy) caught it. But then the umpire said, ‘It’s down. You’re safe,’ ” Allen said. “The best part was seeing all my teammates come after me.”
Allen’s poise at the plate was what impressed Dust Devils manager Anthony Contreras.
“The hardest part was how quiet it got in the stadium. It shows you his concentration,” Contreras said. “You can’t beat (a walk off hit). We’re riding the wave of pro baseball. We’re not going to win every game by 15 runs, so it’s nice to know we can win the close ones too.”
The Tri-City pitchers have been doing their share of good work too, much of it by not creating more work for themselves. The Dust Devils have given up the fewest walks (86) of any team in the NWL — Eugene has the second fewest with 102 — which pleases pitching coach Nelson Cruz to no end.
“I hate walks. I don’t have the percentage, but when I was pitching, it seemed that 99 percent of the time I walked a guy, he scored,” said Cruz, who is also proud of his staff’s fighting spirit. “They’re learning early what it takes to win. Part of that is competing until the last out. I want them to get to the point where they understand all the little things that matter in baseball. If they take care of the little things, everything else will take care of itself.”
The Dust Devils have also shown off a keen batting eye at the plate, leading the NWL with 148 walks, 28 more than Eugene. That’s a plus-62 differential, and that kind of discipline can make a big difference in close ballgames.