As a wildfire raged out of control south of Kennewick, clearly visible from the Gesa Stadium stands, a bout of wildness proved costly for the Hillsboro Hops in the eighth inning.
With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, reliever Justin Garcia walked the bases full, leading to a Michael Curry three-run double that lifted the Tri-City Dust Devils to a 4-1 win over Hillsboro (9-7 second half, 33-21 overall) in front of a sell-out crowd of 3,756 in Pasco, Washington.
A late afternoon wildfire in the hills outside Kennewick quickly spread out of control due to high winds and burned several homes in the south part of the city. Flames were clearly visible in the distance throughout the game, however, those same winds cleared out a thick haze that had covered the area and blew the smoke from the current fire to the south and east away from the field. Temperatures also dropped dramatically after a recorded 108-degree game-time reading for the start of the series leading to a pleasant evening.
The Hops, coming off back-to-back shutouts, blanked the Devils (6-10, 24-30) through the first four innings, taking a 1-0 lead on Jake McCarthy's two-out RBI single in the third. Luis Frias would allow only one hit through 4 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts in his third Hops' start, but back-to-back walks leading off the fifth proved costly. With runners at first and second and two outs, Tri-City's Tucupita Marcano singled to center field off Brian Christian to score Kelvin Alarcon with the game-tying run. Christian had issued a walk to Xavier Edwards that pushed Alarcon into scoring position.
The game stayed tied until the eighth. Garcia (0-1) took over after Christian threw 2 2/3 shutout innings and promptly walked the first two batters he faced. With Texas Tech All-America outfielder Grant Little at the plate, a failed sacrifice bunt led to a strikeout before clean-up hitter Luis Asuncion walked to load the bases. With the sell-out crowd stomping its feet, Luke Becker got the count to 3-1 before striking out on a checked swing after taking a called strike two. With two down and the sacks jammed, Curry also got the count in his favor 3-1, but he was swinging away and drilled a Garcia fastball over the head of McCarthy to the wall in center to clear the bases.
Things got fiery on the field starting in the bottom of the seventh. Tri-City catcher Chandler Seagle lifted a foul fly up the first base line. Hops catcher Ryan January, who had scored Hillsboro's only run in the third after a leadoff single, made his way up the line in pursuit of the ball when Seagle's bat went flying in front of his feet. A distracted January looked away as the ball dropped in foul territory between January and first baseman Francis Martinez. It appeared to bounce into fair territory before it was touched, but was ruled foul, prompting an argument from both managers; Tri-City's Mike McCoy arguing the fair-foul call and Hillsboro's Shawn Roof claiming interference on the bat toss. Seagle would return to home plate and was called out on strikes.
In Hillsboro's half of the eighth, L.T. Tolbert came to the plate with two down and McCarthy aboard after being hit by a pitch. After a strike was called on a check swing, Tolbert argued with home plate umpire Nick McFarland. Roof came down and eventually got involved, meanwhile, Tri-City players met on the mound. After a long delay, things had appeared to have calmed down, but Tolbert again started chirping when told that a second strike had been called because he did not get in the batters box when instructed. McFarland had heard enough and tossed the Hillsboro shortstop, who had to be restrained by Roof and hitting coach Micah Franklin. Geraldo Perdomo entered the game to replace him, inheriting an 0-2 count and looked at a called strike three to end the inning.
Ramon Perez (2-1) struck out the side in the ninth to close out the win. He had been roughed up by the Hops, lasting only 1/3 of an inning back on July 14 in a start at Ron Tonkin Field. Pitching out of the bullpen since then, the 19-year-old Cuban tossed three scoreless innings, allowing three hits and no walks with five strikeouts.
Tri-City won despite being outhit 5-3 by Hillsboro. The Curry double was the Dust Devils' first extra base hit of the series.
One night after the Devils walked ten Hops batters without paying the price, Perez and starter Angel Acevedo did not walk a single batter Saturday. Meanwhile, three Hops pitchers combined for eight free passes and half of them came around to score.
Game four of the series is at 7:15 p.m. Sunday night (the Dust Devils rarely play afternoon games due to the oppressive summer heat in the Columbia Basin). Pre-game airtime is at 6:45 p.m. on NBC Sports Northwest Rip City Radio 620 AM.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.