They had the worst-overall record in the Northwest League this season. They had never won more than two consecutive games all season. But the Eugene Emeralds shocked the league with a 3-2 win in game 3 over the Spokane Indians (Rangers) to sweep the best-of-five Northwest League Championship Series. It is the Emeralds’ second Northwest League title in three years, but this one was a little more surprising than the last one.
The “Bad News Ems” swept all five postseason games they played this year. Four of the five wins were by a score of 3-2.
The drama came in the bottom of the ninth with Eugene trailing Spokane 2-1. The Emeralds had not scored since the first inning and hadn’t had a hit since the second. Right fielder Jonathan Sierra led off the inning with an infield single. After Grant Fennell flew out to right field, center fielder Fernando Kelli hit a grounder between the third baseman and the shortstop to put runners on first and second with one out.
Here’s where things got weird. Pinch-hitter Yonathan Perlaza hit a soft bouncer up the middle, which Indians second baseman Diosbel Arias flipped to shortstop Jax Biggers to force the speedy Kelli at second. Normally a shortstop would have no chance at a double play on that ball, but Biggers failed to notice that Perlaza had tripped halfway down the first base line. Had he thrown the ball to first, it would have been a game-ending double play. Instead, the Ems still had life. Runners on the corners, two out. Spokane leads 2-1.
Perlaza stole second without a throw and another pinch-hitter, Jake Slaughter, was hit by a pitch. With the bases loaded and two out, the pressure seemed to get to Indians all-star closer Emmanuel Clase. He missed on a 3-2 pitch to third baseman Andy Weber, forcing in Sierra as the tying run.
On the first pitch to the next batter, Emeralds left fielder Nelson Velazquez, Clase stumbled. A balk was called and Perlaza scored the championship-winning run from third base.
The game got off to a good start for Eugene as Velazquez doubled with on out in the first inning and then scored from second on an error by the shortstop Biggers. Velazquez was really hustling on the play as the ball never left the infield.
The Indians tied up the game in the top of the second inning when the first batter of the inning made it all the way to second base on a strikeout/wild pitch by Emeralds starter Eury Ramos. The next batter singled in a run and with one out, Ramos gave up a ground-rule double to put runners on second and third with one out. But Ramos struck out the next two batters to end the threat. In fact, Ramos had four strikeouts in that inning.
The Indians took a 2-1 lead when third baseman Sherten Apostel homered off Ramos in the fourth inning.
The final line on Ramos was two runs on four hits over four innings. He struck out four and did not walk anyone.
After that, the game was uneventful until the ninth inning. The Emeralds led off the second with two singles, but a double play and another groundout ended that threat very quickly. As noted earlier, the Ems didn’t have another hit until the ninth inning. They had some baserunners on walks, hit batsmen and another error, but it never looked like they were really threatening.
Meanwhile, Peyton Remy pitched four scoreless innings in relief of Ramos. He allowed two hits. Remy struck out three, walked two and hit one batter.
The Indians did threaten to add on some insurance runs in the top of the ninth. Fauris Guerrero relieved Remy and hit the first batter of the inning. After a failed bunt attempt, Guerrero walked Biggers to put runners on first and second with one out, and a wild pitch made it second and third with one out. Guerrero then got a huge strikeout for the second out.
After the strikeout, Guerrero exited for Ethan Roberts, who walked the first batter he faced to load the bases. But an easy fly to right field then ended the threat and kept the Ems within a run.
Roberts got the win. It was the first professional win for this year’s fourth-round pick.
The Emeralds had five hits tonight. Kelli was 2 for 4. Velazquez was 1 for 3 with a walk and a double. Weber’s bases-loaded walk was the only RBI for the Ems tonight.
Here’s the game-winning balk. The umpires actually discussed this after the call, but I can’t see how it wasn’t a balk.
Here’s the championship balk. pic.twitter.com/XUOvZrDuti— Steve Mims (@SteveMims_RG) September 12, 2018
Here’s the bases-loaded walk that tied the game:
Here’s the Ems rushing the field after the walk-off balk.
Finally, here’s Velazquez scoring on the error in the first inning:
So “The Bad News Ems” win their second Northwest League crown in three years. That 2016 one wasn’t as much of a surprise as that team had a regular season record of 54-22. By contrast, the Ems were 31-45 in 2018.
It’s also Eugene’s second title in four years as a Cubs affiliate. Before that, they had not won an outright title since 1975, although they did share the 1980 title after the Championship Series that year was cancelled because of wildfires.
With that, the 2018 Cubs minor league season is over. Once again, I thank you for reading and I’m very pleased to bring you news of a championship, which I must admit that I wasn’t expecting just two weeks ago.
The Arizona Fall League starts in October, and I’ll be doing weekly recaps of the Cubs on the Mesa Solar Sox.