Ronnie Richardson hit a pinch-hit, bases-loaded, two-RBI walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning to bring the Emeralds from behind and defeat the Spokane Indians 4-3 Thursday night at PK Park, in front of 3,886.
“He’s the night train,” said Emeralds manager Pat Murphy of Richardson. “After about 8:45 — look out. The kid believes in himself and that’s a tool that people don’t see. Those situations don’t bug him.”
The Emeralds led 2-0 entering the ninth inning, but Northwest League All-Star closer Roman Madrid (W, 7-0) allowed three earned runs in the top half of the inning.
For the second time in the series, the Emeralds responded to a late inning deficit with a rally resulting in a walk-off hit.
Second baseman and cleanup hitter Maxx Tissenbaum led off with a bunt single, and designated hitter Rodney Daal followed with a walk. First baseman Goose Kallunki laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Indians’ right-handed relief pitcher Abel De Los Santos (L, 3-5) intentionally walked catcher Dane Phillips to load the bases.
After Indians manager Tim Hulett called on left-handed relief pitcher Joseph Burns to face left-handed pinch hitter Edwin Moreno, Murphy responded by replacing Moreno with Richardson, a center fielder who has seen his playing time take a dive late in the season. Having shown an affinity for late-game heroics throughout the season, Richardson lined a single to left field, scoring Tissenbaum and pinch runner Felix Cabrera, sending the PK Park crowd into a frenzy.
“He started out with two curveballs, and then he tried to sneak a fastball in there,” said Richardson of the at-bat. “I was just trying to square one up, and hit something in the outfield to at least score one run.”
Despite the victory, the Emeralds remain just a half-game ahead of the Vancouver Canadians in the chase for the West Division second half title. The Canadians beat the Yakima Bears 7-1 in Yakima on Thursday night. The Emeralds must finish a full game ahead of the Canadians to secure a playoff berth.
Despite a 47-28 overall record that is tops in the Northwest League, the Emeralds may miss the playoffs due to the league’s format. The winners of each half in each division qualify for the playoffs.
“If a team with the best record in the Northwest League doesn’t go to the playoffs, we’ve got something to be proud of,” said Murphy. “It’s our own little crown.”
In the bottom of the fourth inning, the Emeralds, who had been sent down in order in the first three innings, responded with a rally of their own. Shortstop Stephen Carmon led off with a walk, and stole second base on right fielder Corey Adamson’s strikeout. Left fielder Jeremy Baltz followed with a single, scoring Carmon despite a strong throw by Indians’ left fielder Royce Bolinger. Baltz advanced to second base on the play.
Tissenbaum then singled to right field, moving Baltz to third base. Daal followed with a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Baltz and extending the Emeralds’ lead to 2-0.
Emeralds’ starting pitcher Justin Hancock opened his fifth and final frame of the night with a walk to designated hitter Joe Maloney. After striking out first baseman Smerling Lantigua, Hancock induced a ground ball double play off the bat of catcher Guy Edmonds, ending the inning. Hancock finished his final outing of the regular season with four hits and one walk allowed against five strikeouts in five innings pitched. The right-hander from Defiance, Ohio finishes his Northwest League season with a 5-2 record and a 1.61 ERA.
After sending away the Indians in order in the sixth inning, Emeralds’ right-handed relief pitcher Genison Reyes battled his own wildness in the seventh. Reyes walked left fielder Barrett Serrato, but received help from Carmon and Kallunki on a 6-3 double play.
Reyes continued to struggle with his command, walking Gallo and hitting Maloney with a pitch. With Lantigua at the plate, Reyes threw a wild pitch, allowing Maloney and Gallo to advance to second and third base, respectively. Reyes escaped the jam by striking out Lantigua, and preserving the shutout.
Reyes followed his messy seventh inning with a quick eighth, sending the Indians down in order. The Dominican Republic native punctuated his third and final inning by striking out center field Jake Skole looking.
“I’m proud of our pitching staff,” said Murphy. “Hancock didn’t have his best stuff but battled for five. Reyes’ three innings – he’s emerging as a real prospect, and Madrid’s been great for us all year. I think the team sensed that and felt how bad he felt.”
In the ninth inning, the Indians’ offense woke up against Madrid, starting with a leadoff single by right fielder Preston Beck. After Serrato struck out looking, shorstop Ryan Rua drew a walk. Madrid appeared primed to escape the jam after getting third baseman Joey Gallo to fly out to center field, but designated hitter Joe Maloney doubled to right field, scoring Preston Beck.
Lantigua landed the big blow by singling to right field, scoring Rua and Maloney and putting the Emeralds’ hopes of a much needed victory in doubt.
However, the Emeralds responded in the bottom half with two runs of their own, keeping them in first place.
“We’re trying to go to the playoffs,” said Richardson. “We want to win this whole thing, and Vancouver’s a great team. We’re head to head right now, and every game’s counting, down to the end. So we’ve got to keep playing and finish the season off good.”
The Emeralds complete their regular season Friday night against the Indians, at 7:05 PM at PK Park.