Emeralds self-destruct in 9-4 loss

EUGENE – The Eugene Emeralds have only themselves to blame for this one.

With the game tied at four in the eighth inning after twice blowing leads, the Emeralds handed the Tri-City Dust Devils a gift when Rolando Valdez balked in the go-ahead run and third baseman Matt Antonelli made two critical miscues that led to a four-run ninth inning as the Emeralds fell 9-4 at Civic Stadium.

"We made some base-running mistakes. We made some defensive mental mistakes," Eugene manager Doug Dascenzo said. "That's what should happen – get your butt kicked. You can't make those kind of mistakes."

To Tri-City's credit, the Dust Devils continually battled. Down 3-2 in the eighth Geoff Strickland led off with a walk and stole second despite the correct call of a pitchout between Valdez and catcher Kody Valverde.

Valverde set up outside and stood to throw, but the pitch was inside, and he mishandled the ball, allowing the runner to reach easily. Strickland scored after beating the throw home on a single to right field by Jeff Kindel.

Kindel reached second on the hit and stole third as Valdez didn't even get off the rubber to attempt a throw.

Kindel then scored on a balk by Valdez that prompted a discussion between Dascenzo and home-plate umpire Jared Gray.

"He said he (Valdez) started and stopped," Dascenzo said of his discussion with Gray. "We didn't see it, but he said he saw it. So, what are you going to do?"

That run made the score 5-4. The Dust Devils extended its slim lead in the ninth inning, an inning that began when Tri-City's Bret Berglund hit a slow chopper to Antonelli, who charged and attempted to glove the ball but could not field it cleanly.

The next batter, Victor Ferrante, hit the ball down the line at third. Antonelli made a back-handed stop and gathered the ball before firing to Craig Cooper at first. But his throw was very wide, putting runners at second and third and instigating Tri-City's big inning. A single, a walk, and a base-clearing double pushed the lead to 9-4 and the Emeralds could not muster a threat in their half of the ninth.

"We played pretty well most of the game, and then in the end (they scored) a couple unearned runs, which makes it tough," Antonelli said of the loss. "Unfortunately those things happen."

The Emeralds built an early 2-0 lead off the strength of a two-run homerun to right field in the third by Mike Epping.

"It was an 0-2 count, so I was just trying to stay back on something," Epping said of the homerun. "I think he (Andrew Graham) was trying to elevate a fastball, but he didn't get it up enough, and he left it over the plate."

That came after Epping attempted a drag bunt with a runner on first in the same at-bat. Luckily, that ball narrowly went foul.

"The third basemen was back, I was just trying to get something down, trying to get some runners in scoring position and see what could happen. I guess it worked out," said Epping, who finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs.

Tri-City took its first lead in the fifth against Eugene starter Brooks Dunn. Up until that point, Dunn was rolling, allowing just two hits on 34 pitches. But the wheels fell off in the fifth.

Dunn gave up back-to-back singles and a passed ball to put runners on second and third. Another single cut the score to 2-1. He'd eventually escape the inning giving up three runs, but it could have been worse if not for a controversial call at second.

With runners on first and second and one out, Josh Banda lined a double down the left field line. The runner at second scored to tie the game and the runner at first attempted to round second for third, but ran into second baseman Brian Lauderdale and fell down.

Thinking he had a free pass because of the base-path obstruction, the runner jogged to third but was tagged out, eliciting a heated discussion between Tri-City manager Freddie Ocasio and field umpire Rory Hawkins.

Hawkins explained that the runner must advance at his own risk despite the obstruction call. It is up to the umpire's discretion whether or not a base runner would reach a certain base had the obstruction not occurred. In this case, Hawkins did not believe the runner would have necessarily reached third safely and was called when he jogged into the tag by Antonelli.

Ocasio was eventually tossed and the call stood. Banda later scored on an RBI single by Anthony Jackson to make the score 3-2.

Dunn went six innings, giving up seven hits, and the three earned runs. He did not factor into the decision.

The Emeralds tied the game at three in the bottom of the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Epping and took the lead momentarily in the seventh when Epping walked, stole second, reached third on the overthrow at second base and scored on an RBI single by Tom King.

But Tri City completed its second comeback with six runs in the final two innings. Valdez was tagged with the loss after pitching one inning-plus, allowing three hits and three earned runs. Ethan Katz picked up the win after working two innings, giving up two hits and one run. Dust Devil starter Andrew Graham pitched well, lasting five innings and surrendering just three hits and three earned runs.

The final game of this five game series is tomorrow. The Emeralds will likely send Aaron Breit (0-2, 3.86 ERA) to the mound. Eugene is now eight games back of first-place Salem-Keizer.

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