Series Wrap: Ems Drop Two of Three, But Clinch Playoff Spot
Nate Gartrell, EDN
It was a bittersweet home series for the Eugene Emeralds. They won only one of three games against the Everett AquaSox, a team the Ems swept earlier in the season. They clinched a playoff spot, thanks to a Vancouver Canadians loss, but only after losing two straight games largely due to mistakes.
The bright spots? Other than the playoff spot, the Ems secured their first win of the second season, giving them a 1-0 start as they prepare for an away series in Spokane. And, on the rubber match of the series, the Ems rejuvenated their slumping bats, and scored six times against Everett, en route to a 6-2 win.
On Sunday, the Ems squandered several chances to score, and lost 3-0 to the AquaSox in a game that was scoreless until the seventh inning.
It wasn’t for lack of trying; Ems runners stole six bases, and had runners in scoring position in the first, second, third, fifth, six, seventh, and eighth innings. But they weren’t able to score in any of those instances.
“First, you gotta credit their pitcher,” said Ems’ manager Pat Murphy. “And, we had only five or six hard contacts all day–you can’t have that.”
The Ems’ best chance to plate a run came in the sixth, when right fielder Lee Orr led off with a long fly ball that bounced off the left-center field wall, and came within inches of leaving the ballpark. Instead, Orr ended up at second with a double, and then advanced wild pitch, giving the Ems a runner on third with no outs.
At that point, the score was still 0-0, and a run might have given the Ems a momentum boost for the later innings. But the next three Ems’ batters went down in order, on two grounders and an infield pop up, and Orr didn’t score.
The Ems’ starter Sunday, Matt Andriese, had another solid outing. He pitched five scoreless innings, struck out six, worked around two hits and three walks, and was given a no-decision.
“The pitchers feel like they gotta be perfect when you’re not scoring runs,” said Murphy. “It’s frustrating.”
The AquaSox’s starter, Stephen Kohlscheen (1-0), who Murphy referred to as one of the league’s best pitchers Saturday evening, pitched six scoreless, struck out three, and was awarded his first win of the season.
On Monday, the Ems’ offensive woes continued, and they lost again to the AquaSox, this time 4-2. It was a frustrating loss, but it was quickly overshadowed by the news that the Canadians had lost, giving the Ems their first playoff spot since 2000.
“I think Vancouver’s a better team than us right now,” said Murphy after Monday’s game, before the Canadians’ game had ended. “But I think, overall, we probably did a little more special stuff than they did.”
When the Canadians lost, the two teams became tied, and since the Ems won the season series against Vancouver, the playoff spot became Eugene’s by default. Since the Ems have clinched a playoff spot already, the aren’t eligible to do so in the second half; if they finish first again, the second place team will simply be awarded a playoff spot.
“Whatever way we can get it,” Orr said, when asked how he’d feel if the Ems clinched via a Vancouver loss. “That’s the way the ball goes sometimes.”
Ems’ fans can only hope that the clinching will put a spark in the Emeralds’ bats, something they desperately needed to happen on Monday. The Ems loaded the bases three times in three different innings, and were only able to score one run, thanks to a walk by catcher Jeremy Rodriguez, which was preceded by three other walks.
In fact, 11 Ems received free passes throughout Monday’s game, and by the end, they had only two runs to show for it. These offensive woes have plagued the Ems since second baseman Cory Spangenberg was promoted to Fort Wayne. After Monday’s loss, the Ems had only won three of their last 13 games.
“The last 13 games have been pretty similar,” said Murphy after Monday’s game. “We lost the core of our lineup, and we haven’t been able to recoup.”
“We’ve also lost our defense, and our pitching has maintained itself to be very very good.”
The “lost defense” Murphy referred to was rampant throughout the series. On Monday, two Ems outfielders converged on the same routine fly ball and collided, allowing the ball to drop. A run scored on the play, and another AquaSox runner moved to third.
In the third, shortstop Jace Peterson and second baseman Rashad Ingram both tried to field the throw on an AquaSox stolen base attempt, and the ball dropped between them. Later in the inning, Ems’ third baseman Jorge Minyety fielded a routine ground ball, then threw a bouncer to first, which allowed another run to score.
“As the manager, you’re worried about how your club’s playing,” said Murphy. “And our club’s not playing well.”
On Tuesday, the Ems were able to turn things around. Led by a three-run home run from Jose Dore, his third of the year, the Ems scored early and often, and kept Everett off the board until the eighth inning, ultimately winning 6-2.
Dore’s shot was a towering drive, which fell just left of the foul pole in right field, and landed in the Ems bullpen. Initially, the ball looked like it would land foul, and when it landed fair, the entire Ems bullpen jumped to their feet and cheered.
“We just built off of [clinching Monday], knowing that we’re in it,” said Dore after Tuesday’s game. “It took a lot of pressure off, and now I think we’re all gonna go out and have a good time.”
Defensively, both teams made four errors, and the Ems could have been charged with at least two more. But, simply put, their pitching was so good that the errors didn’t affect the game’s outcome. The Ems’ starter, Colin Rea, pitched three scoreless and struck out three. Mark Pope followed with another three scoreless, and struck out four.
Reliever Luis De La Cruz was charged with both AquaSox runs, but both runners who scored got on base with ground ball singles that would have easily been outs had they been hit slightly differently.
“With our inexperience, we have to base run and play defense,” said Murphy. “If we don’t hit, you can’t just create hitters. But you gotta base run and play defense; those are things I believe we can have an influence over.”
“When we get a few players in, if we ever do, then I think we’re capable of being a good defensive team and we’re capable of base running well. If we do those two things, with the pitching the way its been, that at least gives us a fighting chance.”
-Two Ems, outfielder Mike Gallic and closer Kevin Quackenbush, were promoted Monday to low-A Fort Wayne. Quackenbush has been the Ems closer all season and had a 0.44 ERA. Murphy said he was leaning towards reliever Chris Wilkes as Quackenbush’s replacement.
-Donavan Tate, San Diego Padres’ top prospect and current Ems’ outfielder, made his return this series after serving a 25 game suspension for testing positive to THC. He reached three times, stole twice, and scored on Tuesday.
-The Tri-City Dust Devils, a team Murphy used to play for, have also clinched the Eastern Division. They are the only known Ems’ playoff opponent at this time.
-The Ems broke another attendance record Sunday, when 4,661 fans showed up the game. In addition to the prospect of seeing the Ems clinch, fans were likely lured to PK Park by a Levi’s free bat giveaway.