INDIANAPOLIS – With a division championship hanging in the balance, the Indianapolis Indians (73-58) delivered a big blow to their second-place rival on Friday.
The Columbus Clippers (67-65) came within a hit of tying the game in the ninth, but the Tribe held on for an important 3-1 win at Victory Field. Indy’s lead over the Clips in the International League West is now at a season-high 6 1/2 games, while their magic number to clinch the division is at five.
The Indians struck quickly on Friday night, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
A two-out rally did the trick for the home team, as four consecutive batters reached versus Columbus starting pitcher Jarrett Grube. Edwin Espinal capped the attack, ripping a two-run double to left. Espinal has now recorded multiple RBIs in three straight contests.
In the fourth, Indianapolis used some power to take a 3-0 lead. Erich Weiss blasted a no-doubt homer into the right field lawn off of Grube, his fifth of the year.
Drew Hutchison toed the rubber for the Tribe and turned in seven strong innings of work. The right-hander blanked the Clippers on five hits and two walks, en route to his eighth win of 2017. Hutchison also struck out eight batters, his highest strikeout total since punching out ten in a winning start against Toledo on June 19.
Things got a little hairy for Indy’s bullpen following Hutchison’s departure, but they got it done.
Edgar Santana gave up back-to-back hits to start eighth, but was able to get escape the frame unscathed. Dovydas Neverauskas came on to pitch in the ninth, but walked a batter and surrendered two singles to put Columbus on the board. After a wild pitch on strike three moved two runners into scoring position, Neverauskas was lifted with two outs in favor of Dan Runzler. Indy’s southpaw succeeded in getting the final out for the home team, though, leaving two Clippers stranded on base to give the Indians a 3-1 victory.
The middle game of this series is slated for a 7:05 p.m. start time on Saturday. Nick Kingham (8-6, 3.44 ERA) is penciled in as the Tribe’s probable starting pitcher.