PASCO, WASH. --- Just when you thought it wasn't possible to match the incredible drama that had taken place earlier in the 2019 postseason, the Hillsboro Hops found a way to do it. On Monday night at Gesa Stadium, Tristin English broke a scoreless tie with a two-run home run in the top of the ninth, and then the Hops withstood a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the bottom of the ninth to escape with a 2-1 win. Hillsboro leads Tri-City two games to one in the best-of-five Northwest League Championship Series, and can wrap up the third title in the franchise's seven-year history with a win either Tuesday or Wednesday at Tri-City.
Hops starter Tyler Holton tossed another gem, working seven shutout innings, with four hits, no walks and nine strikeouts. (Over his final seven outings in 2019, he had what has to be one of the most dominant runs in NWL history: 34.1 innings, 16 hits, three runs (two earned), with just two walks and FIFTY-EIGHT strikeouts.)
But Holton was matched pitch-for-pitch by Dust Devils starter Luarbert Arias. An 18-year-old from Venezuela --- the youngest player on Tri-City's roster --- Arias worked six shutout frames, allowing just one hit, with one walk and six strikeouts. Fellow Venezuelan Angel Acevedo relieved him and worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning for Tri-City.
Neither team advanced a runner into scoring position until the top of the eighth, when Liover Peguero led off and reached base on an error by Tri-City shortstop Jordy Barley. Peguero went to second on Jorge Barrosa's ground out, and to third on Andy Yerzy's fly out, but the Hops left him there when Acevedo struck out Jesus Marriaga.
In the bottom of the eighth, it was Tri-City's turn to get their first runner into scoring position. Nick Snyder, who has been simply dominant in his first professional season for the Hops, issued a walk to Luke Becker to begin the inning. Sean Guilbe sacrificed Becker to second (English, the Hops' third baseman, threw Guilbe out from his backside after his feet slipped on the grass). But Snyder retired Jonny Homza on a ground out to third, and Tre Carter on a foul out to Hops catcher Ryan January.
Then came the top of the ninth. With two out and none on, Hillsboro center fielder Corbin Carroll grounded one past the mound for an infield single. That brought up English, and brought the strong contingent of Hops fans, many of whom had made the trip from Hillsboro, to their feet.
English --- the club leader in home runs during the regular season with seven --- then took a swing that those fans will remember for a long time. On a coolish, heavy-air night, English drove one over the left-field fence for a 2-0 lead.
With Snyder on the mound, the Hops had to feel pretty good about things. Entering the bottom of the ninth, Snyder had worked 20 innings in the NWL in his pro debut season (regular season and postseason combined), allowing only TWO hits, with ten walks and 30 strikeouts.
However, Dust Devils leadoff man Reinaldo Ilarraza singled to begin the inning, and Snyder issued consecutive walks to Jordy Barley (on four pitches) and Logan Driscoll (on six pitches), loading the bases with none out.
Mailon Arroyo came out of the Hops' 'pen to face cleanup hitter Kelvin Melean. Melean hit a sinking liner to right, but Jorge Barrosa -- playing shallow against the right-handed hitter -- was able to sprint in and catch it. One out, bases still loaded.
Jack Stronach then hit a hard ground ball to first. Yerzy back-handed a tough hop, and turned to throw to second, but dropped the ball during the exchange and had to settle for the out at first. Ilarraza scored to make it 2-1, and with two out, Tri-City had the tying run at third base and the winning run at second.
Arroyo battled Becker for 10 pitches, finally striking him out looking on a back-door slider to end the game.
Snyder got the win --- his second of the postseason --- and Arroyo picked up his second save of the playoffs.
Hillsboro had just three hits, and they have just ten through the first three games of the series. But their pitching and defense in games one and three have been superb.
Just how dramatic has the Hops' postseason run been? Consider these facts:
-- In three of the Hops four playoff wins, they didn't score until the eighth inning or later.
-- In two of the four wins, Hillsboro never led until the game was over.
-- And in three of the four Hops wins, either team could have won on the last pitch of the game.
And now, Hillsboro has a chance to win another title on the same field at which they won their last championship. (Tuesday will be three days shy of four years since the Hops celebrated their 2015 title at Tri-City.) Oddly, Gesa Stadium is the only road park at which the Hops have an all-time regular-season record below .500 (they're 16-18).
Hillsboro will send right-hander Marcos Tineo to the mound on Tuesday. Despite being named to both the mid-season and year-end NWL all-star teams, Tineo has yet to appear in the playoffs. During the regular season, he was second in the league in wins and third in ERA, going 6-4, 2.57 in 15 games (eight starts).
Tri-City will counter with lefty Jason Blanchard, who went 1-3 with a 3.38 ERA in 13 games (10 starts) during the regular season. (Blanchard's innings limit kept him from qualifying for wins.)
Tuesday's airtime on Rip City Radio 620 AM and www.RipCityRadio.com will be 6:45 PM, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.