The Eugene Emeralds seemed to blow their chance to clinch a playoff berth in the final game of the first half of the Northwest League season, falling 4-2 to the Everett AquaSox Monday night at PK Park.
Luckily for the Emeralds (24-14), however, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes bailed them out, defeating the Vancouver Canadians (24-14) 10-6 and giving Eugene the NWL West Division crown on a tiebreaker.
“I feel good about it, and I hope the club feels good about it,” first-year Emeralds manager Pat Murphy said. “I’m proud of our guys at the end of the game. We didn’t quit, but you’re asking some guys to do some things they’re not capable of at this point in their careers, and I’m not used to that.”
The Emeralds had ample opportunity to score against the AquaSox (16-22), registering 10 walks in the game — nine in the first four innings including four in a row in the fourth — and stranding the bases loaded three different times, but couldn’t make up for the four preventable runs they allowed in their defeat.
“I know you’re not going to find a six-stolen base game where the team only scored one run (which the Emeralds did Sunday), and you’re not going to find a 10-walk game where the team scored two runs,” Murphy said. “So we’re breaking records left and right.”
Everett scored its first run of the game in the top of the first inning against Emeralds starter Juan Herrera. With leadoff batter Jarrett Burgess on second base after a , AquaSox right fielder Mario Yepez hit a fly ball to the left-center-field gap, between Emeralds left fielder Mykal Stokes and center fielder Donavan Tate. However, the two outfielders collided with neither catching the ball, as Yepez recorded what was ruled an RBI triple.
The Emeralds stranded the bases loaded in the first inning when first baseman Zach Kometani hit into a double play with one out after the Emeralds started out with two hits in the inning. Eugene would not record another hit until the eighth inning.
The AquaSox added a run in the third inning when Emeralds third baseman Jorge Minyety shorthopped a throw to first baseman Zach Kometani with two outs, allowing Everett designated hitter James Wood to score from third base on the error.
Herrera was lifted after the third inning, giving up two runs (one earned) on three hits with three walks and three strikeouts.
The Emeralds got a run back in the bottom of the inning when AquaSox starter Jordan Shipers walked four consecutive Emeralds — throwing 15 straight balls at one point — to force in a run with one out. Designated hitter Mike Gallic then hit a double play on the first pitch of the next at-bat, ending the Emeralds’ potential big inning.
“You can’t stay mad … at some kid from Marist College, after four walks in a row, swinging at the first pitch,” Murphy said. “If I had a stun gun, I might have stunned him on the way to first. But you can’t stay mad at those guys long.”
Shipers and Everett reliever Bryan Leigh combined to walk the bases loaded again in the fourth inning, but Tate hit into a fielders’ choice to end the inning and strand three runners again.
The AquaSox tacked on another preventable run in the sixth inning off Emeralds reliever Will Scott. After Everett third baseman Ramon Morla reached on a two-out walk, he scored from first base on a bloop single that fell in just in front of Emeralds right fielder Lee Orr, who did not dive or lunge for the ball. Scott went three innings, giving up one run on a single hit and walk, striking out three.
“Our defense has just continually let us down, let us down tonight,” Murphy said. “That game’s over, it’s two to nothing us, with the offensive ineptness.”
Everett scored again in the seventh inning off Eugene reliever Chris Wilkes. AquaSox second baseman Patrick Brady hit a single up the middle with one out in the inning before stealing second base on a call that could have gone either way for the Emeralds. Brady was then driven in by Yepez, who hit another single up the middle to give the AquaSox a 4-1 lead.
Eugene tallied its second run in the eighth inning when Orr scored on a wild pitch, but then Gallic was stranded at third base by second baseman Travis Whitmore to end the inning.
The Emeralds were unable to score in the final frame, but closer Kevin Quackenbush pitched a final inning in Eugene before his and Gallic’s impending call-up to Single-A Fort Wayne after the game. The 2011 eighth-round pick of the San Diego Padres from the University of South Florida gave up a hit and a strikeout in the top of the ninth inning.
The Emeralds and AquaSox kick off the second half of the NWL season Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at PK Park.