The circumstances didn't need to be explained. Actually, they were about as simple as sports can get. The Tri-City Dust Devils would either win and move on to the playoffs, or lose and go home.
Trouble was, that also had been the scenario for each of the two previous days. But instead of a season-ending sweep, the Dust Devils got a bases-loaded triple from shortstop Helder Velazquez and scored six runs in the ninth inning to defeat Boise, 8-1, and clinch the Northwest League's East Division title.
"We had to come to Boise and play three games and win one. We lost the first two and then won one," Dust Devils manager Fred Ocasio said. "I told them before the game, 'It would be a shame, for what we've done in the second half, if we went home.'"
The teams finished with identical 37-39 records, but Tri-City won its first division title by virtue of its 7-5 record against Boise during the regular season.
What had been a pitchers' duel for eight innings suddenly turned into a rout when the Dust Devils batted around in the ninth. Darin Holcomb led off with a double and scored on an error by first baseman Luis Batista. Lars Davis brought in a run with a sacrifice fly before Velazquez ripped a bases-clearing triple to break the game open. He scored on an error by third baseman Josh Vitters.
"That was huge. [Hawks reliever Stephen Vento] made some good pitches on sliders. For whatever reason, he threw him a fastball and [Velazquez] hit it off the center-field wall," Ocasio said. "If it was 4-1, I'm sure they would have had a little more life."
Instead, Drew Coffey worked around a pair of walks over the final 2 2/3 hitless innings to earn his first save.
Starter Sheng-An Kuo (5-4) gave up one run on four hits and two walks while fanning five over 6 1/3 frames for Tri-City, which posted a league-worst 13-25 road record during the second half.
Velazquez collected three hits and Kevin Clark was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Clark gave Tri-City an early 2-1 lead with a two-run homer, his seventh, in the second. Phillip Cuadrado went 1-for-3 with two runs scored and a walk.
Boise starter Ryan Acosta (0-2) yielded two runs on four hits and a walk with four strikeouts in five frames. Audy Santana pitched three scoreless innings of relief before Stephen Vento came on for the ninth and was charged with six runs -- one earned -- on three hits while retiring two batters.
Brandon Guyer lifted a sacrifice fly in the first to plate Tony Thomas Jr. for the Hawks.
The Dust Devils will square off with Salem-Keizer, which dominated the Northwest League with a 57-19 record, in the best-of-5 Finals which begin Sept. 6 at Tri-City. The Volcanoes, the only team in the league with a record above .500, won the West Division by 19 games.
"Salem-Keizer has a pretty good team. We have to be confident that we can go in there and beat them. It's going to be a good series," Ocasio said. "We're in a short series now, so anything can happen. They've won a lot of games this season, but it's a different story now. It's playoff time; anyone can win."