Eugene wins on power of the third

Tom King

Eugene-- After two ugly losses at home to Vancouver, the Eugene Emeralds put together nine innings of solid pitching and offense to salvage the final game of the series and grab some momentum going into a three-game weekend rendezvous with the Everett Aquasox.

Things didn't start out pretty for Eugene and starter Stephen Faris though, as two Emerald errors and some timely Canadians' hitting helped put a run on the board in each of the first three innings and gave Vancouver a one-run cushion heading into the home half of the third.

Then, after two listless days, the Emeralds' bats finally sprung to life.

Tom King opened the frame by socking the first pitch he saw from Vancouver starter Chad Lee just over left-center field wall for a game-tying solo poke.

"I was just sitting fastball first pitch, and got a pitch and was lucky enough to get good wood on it," an invigorated King said afterwards.

With the score now re-tied and all of Eugene's previous miscues rendered null and void, Eugene's offense went for the jugular.

Craig Cooper followed King's blast with a triple just out of the reach of right-fielder Ramiro Mendez and Chad Huffman drove him home with a double down the left-field line. That set the table for Michael Campbell, who delivered the Ems' second long ball of the inning, a two-run blast over the right-center field fence to give his team a three-run advantage it would never relinquish.

Cooper, who drove in two runs in the game and fell just a home run short of the cycle, spoke after the game about his near accomplishment and what his offensive performance meant to the team.

"It [the near cycle] felt pretty good, anything I can do to help the team…the first one, they came out and scored in the inning and I think it was important for us to come back and bounce right back and get back on the board. In the last inning we were up three and that's a big run to drive in because the only thing that can tie the game is a grand slam at that point, plus that got a rally started."

Now with a big lead, Eugene's pitching was left to do the rest.

After looking a bit shaky over his first three innings, Faris settled down and retired the next six hitters in order to close out his five innings of four-hit ball and hand a lead to a resurgent Emeralds' bullpen.

Nick Tucci, who leads the Northwest League in appearances with 24, combined with Rolando Valdez and closer R.J. Rodriguez to scatter four more hits over the final four frames and seal the win for Eugene.

Somber news accompanied the win, as division-leading Salem-Keizer Volcanoes notched a 4-3 win over Everett and thus slimmed their magic number to a single game. Any combination of an Emeralds' loss or a Salem-Keizer triumph means all hope for Eugene to capture the Northwest League (NWL) flag will have been doused.

In other words, the final nail is in Eugene's coffin and the hammer has hit the home stretch on its way to the final blow.

On a positive note, with the crowd at Civic Stadium hitting 4,348, the Ems' drew the 3,000,000th fan during the Bob Beban era. Beban, also a member of the Minor League Baseball Board of Trustees, MiLB Licensing Committee and the Major League Baseball Playing Rules Committee, has spent 25 years at the Emeralds' helm. During that quarter-century, the Ems' have drawn better than 100,000 fans in 22 consecutive campaigns, a feat unparalleled in the annals of the NWL.

In the opener with Aquasox, Eugene will throw Brooks Dunn, the lone lefty in its six-man rotation. While Dunn's 3-6 record reeks of mediocrity, his 3.19 ERA ranks as the 10th best in league. Game time is at 7:05 p.m.

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