Getting an early start on today's NWL Divisional Series blog between the Tri-City Dust Devils and Boise Hawks.
Hitched a ride to Boise with Dust Devils radio play-by-play man Jason Schwartz at 10 a.m. this morning. Our other passenger was Erik Mertens, best known as Erik the Peanut Guy. It was a fun trip with two great guys, and we all had a lot to talk about.
Erik and Jason had a good discussion about their favorite team logos and team colors — both are long-time aficionados. They were going back and forth with thoughts about improving the Dust Devils logo. I'll tell you, these two might have missed a calling as graphic artists.
Jason was a careful and competent driver, and we made very good time on the road.
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I also have to say that when Christian Bergman brings his fastball tonight, he won't be the only one who clocked 90 mph today.
I'm sitting in the Boise press box that features a nice view of the hills off to the east and the trees surrounding the stadium. It's a gorgeous day in the low 80s with just a few wisps of clouds dancing by.
I'm watching the Dust Devils take batting practice before the game, and everybody looks pretty relaxed. Got a slight breeze blowing from left to right field.
About an hour from game time, but the guys look ready.
I overheard Schwartz make an interesting point in his final regular-season broadcast on Sunday. He remarked that the current Dust Devils lineup looks vastly different than the one on opening night, which featured SS Jeff Squier (now at Double-A Tulsa), 1B Blake McDade (released), DH Jordan Ribera (injured) and 2B David Hernandez (bench).
I'll try to find out more about Ribera, whose knee swelled up something awful after diving for a ball against Salem-Keizer last Friday at Gesa Stadium. Obviously, the hope is to get his left-handed bat back in the lineup, but there's no sense rushing him back if he is hurt.
Looks like 2B Tim Smalling will also be out for the entire series with a hyper-extended elbow. That's a critical loss, because Smalling, who led the NWL with 19 doubles and seven triples, was certainly one of the most dangerous bats in the league. His defense was pretty good, too.
About 20 minutes before game time, and Memorial Stadium is starting to fill up. I just saw the first Kellen Moore jersey of the night. I wonder how many of those I'll see tonight, especially after Boise State's impressive win over Georgia on Friday night.
It's hitting me that this is the first time I've seen Tri-City's road jerseys this year. I don't make the road trips with the team, so it's always nice to check out the other parks in the NWL. Boise is a fine field, pretty well kept except for a 30-foot brown spot out in left center field and a dry spot in front of the mound. But after 38 home games over 79 days, you have to expect a little wear. Overall, the ground crew has done a nice job to get the grass in playing condition.
Here's some interesting news: Boise OF Pin-Chieh Chen, one of the Hawks top run producers (.301 average, 20 stolen bases, 34 runs), had to head back home to Taiwan. The Hawks' PR person said there was a work exchange partnership with Taiwan that expired, requiring him to return.
Cute side note: The Hawks are playing Bruce Springsteen's 'Born to Run', a nice touch considering Boise is third in the NWL in stolen bases.
Here we go: Game time.
A great start for Tri-City, and not so much for Boise. The leadoff batter, Brian Humphries, reaches on a fielding error by Hawks 2B Zeke DeVoss. Humphries went to second on the boot, and Leonardo Reyes laid a sweet sac bunt down the first base line to move him to third. Tyler Massey put the Dust Devils on the board with an RBI double just over the glove of Boise LF Kyung-Min Na for a 1-0 lead.
Got a special guest for you here: Erik the Peanut Guy is sitting to my right. He just appeared with Jason on the radio. Now he's going to type in a few sentences on the blog. Here you go, buddy:
What's up TRI-CITIES????!!!! I've had quite the fun day, roadtrippin' it up with Jack and Jason Schwartz, our radio guy. Oh, the stories we could tell.... :) Anyway, Boise is a nice place. I've always liked this city, and all the folks at Memorial Stadium are living up to the "friendly town" reputation. Very nice people here. But enough about Boise...
WE GOT THE REGULAR SEASON EASTER DIVISION CHAMPS DUST DEVILS TO CHEER FOR!!! I'm feeling pretty stoked about the playoffs, and I sure hope you are, too. There's something magical about the combination of baseball + playoffs + the Tri-Cities. We are definitely a baseball community, and this is the time of year to get into it. So, I hope to see you at Gesa Stadium tomorrow night for Game 2 of this series! Come on out, people! GO DUST DEVILS!
(special hello to Mom & Dad, Cassady, and any of my friends from Gesad Stadium. And THANX JACK!) :)
Let's hear it for Erik for his outstanding pinch-blogging!!! You're always welcome on my keyboard.
It's nice to have somebody intelligent writing this thing for a change.
Dust Devils got it going in the third inning now. Reyes leads off the inning with a single to left, and then Boise starter Jose Rosario hits Jared Simon with a 1-0 pitch with one out. That brought up Tri-City's No. 5 hitter, Juan Crousset, who smoked a 2-0 fastball from Rosario over the centerfield wall for a three-run home run.
Dust Devils lead 4-0 and we're still in the top of the third.
Rosario in deep trouble now. He's fallen behind four of Tri-City's first 17 hitters, and each one has made him pay. Massey hit an RBI double on a 2-1 count in the first, Reyes singled on a 3-2 count in the third, Crousset drilled a 3-run homer on a 2-0 count and Taylor Featherston blooped a double to right on a 3-2 count in the third.
I'm a little surprised Boise doesn't at least have somebody warming up in the bullpen. I guess the argument there is it's still a development league, and sometimes you want to give a kid a chance to work out of trouble.
But Rosario has been laboring since he began. He's hit two batter, walked two more and faced 21 batters over four innings.
Now, in the top of the fourth, the Hawks get somebody warming up. I don't think Rosario will come out for the fifth.
Meanwhile, Christian Bergman has been amazing for Tri-City, retiring the first nine batters he faced through three innings on just 29 pitches.
However, he gets off to a rough start in the bottom of the fourth, hitting Boise leadoff man Zeke DeVoss and then walking Oliver Zapata to set up runners on first and second with no outs.
The No. 3 hitter, Rafael Lopez, hits a soft grounder to Bergman, who throws to second for one out, but Lopez barely beat the throw to first to prevent the double play.
Dust Devils get two more runs in the top of the sixth inning. Humphries lined a one-out single to center, took second on a balk by reliever Dustin Fitzgerald and scored on a two-out double by Massey. Then Simon hit a pop-up into shallow center field that dropped in between CF Zapata and 2B DeVoss to bring in Massey.
Tri-City leads 6-0 after going into the bottom of the sixth.
Bergman still going strong into the seventh. He allowed his first hit with one out in the sixth, a soft infield nubber by DeVoss that tipped off Bergman's glove when he tried to field it. When it dropped to the ground, it died in the grass. By that time, there was no way they'd get DeVoss, who hustled down the line.
Bergman leaves after seven. The guy is incredible. Jason just came out with a couple of stats: Of Bergman's 16 starts, he hasn't allowed a run in eight of them, and he's gone at least seven innings in eight of them as well.
Craig Bennigson now in a little bit of trouble for the Dust Devils. The lefty reliever loads the bases with one out before giving way to lefty Kenneth Roberts in the eighth. Shutout is definitely in jeopardy.
Roberts is brilliant, striking out pinch hitter Dustin Harrington on four pitches and then getting the next batter to pop out to third baseman Jayson Langfels in foul territory. The pitch he threw to punch out Harrington was what they call in the baseball world "filthy".
I would have sworn it was a slider by how hard he threw it, but I asked him after the game what it was. Turns out it was a curve — an 80-mph, ankle-eating spinner with teeth that just ended Harrington.
Will Rankin comes on in the ninth to close things out. He allows a leadoff single to Cuneo but then strikes out NWL home run leader Paul Hoilman before inducing a double-play grounder from Reggie Golden to end the game.
Dust Devils win it 6-0. Very impressive win. They can clinch the divisional series with a win Tuesday.