Aside from a few first inning jitters, Eugene starter Aaron Breit was solid. The tall right-hander from Hays, Kansas gave up two runs in the first inning, only one of which was earned, and then settled down to throw four scoreless innings.
“First inning I struggled to find the zone early and got through it. The defense helped me out throughout the whole game. Then after that I settled in, pelted the strike zone and settled down after that. In the first inning I was throwing it and wasn’t thinking. Then in the second inning, I started pitching,” Breit explained.
Down 2-0 after that first inning, the Ems fought back.
Tom King began things with ground ball single back through the box and first baseman Craig Cooper followed with a five-pitch walk. Cleanup hitter Chad Huffman came up next and slapped a 1-2 pitch into the right-field corner to score King and send Cooper steaming into third. That was all for that inning, though, as Michael Campbell bounced out to pitcher Keith Weiser and right-fielder Willy Crafort waved at a breaking ball to end the inning and leave Eugene wanting.
They wouldn’t be wanting for long.
In the bottom of the third King stepped up and drilled a Weiser 0-1 fastball well over the left-field fence for a game-tying long ball. Huffman singled one later, but was picked off when Weiser snap threw to first.
That knotted the score at two apiece and it would remain that way for a very long time.
Flash forward to the bottom of the ninth inning and things are looking very good for Eugene.
Cooper had singled to right and Huffman had walked to put runners on first and second with nobody down for Campbell.
Here’s where it starts getting ugly.
Campbell squared to bunt, but missed. Cooper, anticipating the bunt, had advanced about one-third of the way to third by the time the ball reached home plate. Dust Devil catcher Brian Aguilar realized Cooper’s error and fired a strike to shortstop Daniel Mayora to put Cooper in a rundown he wouldn’t wriggle his way out of. Campbell grounded the next pitch right to Mayora who started an inning ending 6-4-3 double play to squash Eugene’s momentum and send the game into extra frames.
Tri-City leadoff man Anthony Jackson opened the tenth with a walk off of Eugene closer R.J. Rodriguez and advanced to second after home plate umpire Rory Hawkins called a balk on Rodriguez. Eugene manager Doug Dascenzo bolted from the dugout to discuss the call with Hawkins. After a few minutes of discussion, things got heated and Hawkins gave Dascenzo the heave-ho.
“I’m sticking up for our guy. That’s the first time that kid’s ever gotten a balk called on him. We’ve played games where there were multiple balk calls, and I’m sure he’s pitched in one of them. Then all of a sudden we get a balk call out of nowhere…we’re going to defend our people,” Dascenzo said.
With hitting coach Matt Howe taking Dascenzo’s place, the inning continued and Rodriguez came up big. Eugene’s closer retired Aguilar, Michael McKenry and Jeff Kindel in order to end the inning and leave the go-ahead run stranded at third base.
Rodriguez gave way in the eleventh and Jackson Quezada entered in relief. He provided none.
With one down, Quezada allowed what looked like a relatively harmless single by Bret Berglund. Chad Huffman misplayed the ball, though, and it rolled all the way to the wall, allowing Berglund to coast into third with the go-ahead run. Matthew Repec followed with a sac fly to right to plate Berglund with what would turn out to be the winning run. The Dust Devils would add two more runs off Quezada to make the score 5-2 and put the final nails in the Emeralds’ coffin.
Tri-City closer William Harris tossed a perfect ninth to slam the door and record his second save on the year.
Afterwards, a frustrated Dascenzo cited a failure to execute as the big reason for Eugene’s struggles.
“It’s the same. We couldn’t execute when it was time to execute. We had the baserunning mistake again which kind of took us out of the inning there in the eighth, and that’s the game there, in my opinion.”
With the series with the Dust Devils now in the books, Eugene hits the road for a critical road trip against the Spokane Indians. Trailing the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes by nine games with six head-to-head match-ups still to come, the Ems must come up big in Washington in order to stay in the hunt for the West Division crown. After an off day Wednesday, the series begins Thursday with righty Drew Miller (1-0 2.57 ERA) on the hill. Game time is 6;35 p.m.