For at least one team at Nat Bailey Stadium, the playoffs had already begun Saturday night.
In a game they had to win, the Vancouver Canadians (18-18) broke a 2-2 tie with an unearned run in the eighth inning to defeat the Hillsboro Hops 3-2 in front of a third straight sell-out crowd of 6,413.
A loss to Hillsboro (23-13) and Vancouver would have been eliminated from its pursuit of the Northwest League's North Division title. The Hops have already clinched the South Division first-half crown.
With runners at first and third in the eighth and one out in the eighth inning, Bryan Lizardo sent a ground ball to Keshawn Lynch at second base. Lynch tagged Griffin Conine on his way to second, but could not get a grip on the baseball on the transfer and threw late to first in an attempt for the inning-ending double play. Otto Lopez, who had reached third after a leadoff double and a passed ball, scored what turned out to be the game-winning run.
Justin Watts (2-1) pitched two innings of scoreless relief to earn the win for the C's, who pulled to within a game of the Everett AquaSox, who lost 9-0 at Boise. Everett holds the tiebreaker edge over Vancouver so the C's need two more wins and two more Everett losses to leapfrog the Frogs for the first-half division crown.
Hillsboro had taken a 2-0 lead after Jose Caballero hit a solo home run to left field with one out in the third. Vancouver pulled even with two runs in the bottom of the inning, starting with a mammoth home run to left by Brett Wright, that cleared the roof of the "Hey Y'all Porch" in left field. Later in the inning, Yorman Rodriguez hit a two-out double to right center to score Vinny Capra with the tying run.
Both runs came off Hillsboro reliever Kenny Hernandez, who entered the game after starter Ryan Weiss pitched two scoreless innings. Hernandez went 4 2/3, allowing six hits and two earned runs with two strikeouts and one base on balls. Ethan Larrison (3-1) came on to throw one pitch in the seventh, getting Capra to ground out to short after Tanner Kirwer doubled with one out.
There were highlight-worthy defensive plays made by both teams. Caballero raced into shallow left center field and with his back to home plate made an over-the-shoulder catch to rob Lizardo of a base hit in the sixth. Lynch also robbed Rodriguez of a hit in the first, leaping to snare a laser liner off his bat. Rodriguez was able to extend his hitting streak to 16 games and has hit in all 14 games that he's played in Vancouver, despite having two potential hits taken away. Ryan Tufts, making only his second start at third base, charged in to glove a dribbler up the line and gunned down Rodriguez with an off-balance throw to first. Lynch also bounced back from his miscue in the eighth to make a diving backhand stab on a hot grounder by Jake Brodt to save a run. Zack Jones got a rare start at catcher and made a play up against the netting to foul out Lizardo in the 4th.
The biggest defensive play came in the ninth, though, when Tufts sent a fly ball to deep left field where the fence in front of the Vancouver bullpen juts back 25 feet. On the warning track playing the tricky angle, Hunter Steinmetz, a player who put numerous highlights on ESPN SportsCenter during his time patrolling the outfield at Missouri State University, made a leaping catch and tumbled into the fence, protecting Vancouver's tenuous lead and ensuring the Canadians would play another game of significance in front of another sellout crowd Sunday.
Lopez and Kirwer each had two hits for Vancouver. Caballero had two hits for the Hops.
Sunday's game will air live on NBC Sports Northwest Rip City Radio 620AM and ripcityradio.com beginning at 12:35 p.m. with the first pitch at 1:05 p.m.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.