WALLA WALLA — The Walla Walla Sweets have never come this close to winning a division title, never been this close, this late in a West Coast League season.
It’s dangling like a shiny piece of fruit. Almost ripe. Almost within reach.
It’s right there.
Which makes being patient an agonizing proposition.
But patience could very well be the key to winning the North Division, and for the second time in as many nights, the Sweets waited out the Victoria HarbourCats until victory was ripe for the plucking. Scott Silva, the hero in Saturday’s 1-0, 10-inning victory over Victoria, summoned an encore Sunday at Borleske Stadium, ripping a no-doubt single into right field with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning to plate Jarod Gonzales with the winning run in a 4-3 victory.
“That was crazy,” said Silva, who lined a low-and-away fastball from Victoria reliever Scott Kuzminsky, sauntered up the line, tapped the bag with his cleat, then turned and patiently waited for his teammates to stream out of the dugout and mob him in the infield.
“It was a good pitch, but I got some good wood on it. To be able to win it two nights in a row is amazing.”
The win pulled the Sweets (25-22) back into a first-place tie with Wenatchee atop the North Division with seven games left in the regular season while opening a 1 1/2-game lead over third-pace Bellingham, which lost to Bend Sunday.
The top two teams in each division advance to the postseason.
Silva’s summer has been a case study in the virtues of patience. It has taken him a while to find his stroke, Walla Walla manager J.C. Biagi said.
“As of late, he’s been swinging the bat as well as anybody,” the skipper added. Summer ball “is really a test of patience, a test of fortitude.”
In the 10th inning on Saturday, Silva successfully executed a suicide squeeze bunt to score Beau Bozett from third with the winning run. That he found himself in a similar position Sunday was owed to a pair of rallies built around, well, patience.
The Sweets took a 2-0 lead into the eighth inning but surrendered three runs with two outs. With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Dominic Miroglio coaxed a walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Bozett, who promptly — and easily — stole second. Bozett’s swipe would prove unnecessary in hindsight; Gonzales was hit by a pitch, pinch-hitter Nick Vilter walked to load the bases and then, after Scott Kuzminsky relieved Cameron Cuneo, Mike Paulson walked to force in a run.
By not swinging at the strikes the HarbourCats bullpen wasn’t throwing, the Sweets had tied the game.
“In the games that we play well, you tend to see some of that. You see us showing patience at the dish, and no anxiety,” Biagi said. “Guys didn’t chase pitches out of the strike zone.”
WCL saves leader Sean-Luke Brija, summoned in the ninth inning of a tie ballgame for the second night in a row, retired the Victoria side in order, then did it again in the top of the 10th.
Gonzales was hit by a pitch with one out in the bottom of the 10th, and Paulson and Skrbec milked consecutive walks one out later. Silva came to the plate representing the ninth Walla Walla player to bat with runners in scoring position on Saturday — and delivered the only hit of those nine plate appearances.
Prior to the HarbourCats’ eighth-inning rally, the Sweets were cruising toward a shutout victory thanks to starting pitcher Sean Silva, Renae Martinez’s solo home run leading off the bottom of the first and a solo tally in the second.
Victoria had scoring chances galore against Silva, but every time opportunity knocked against the USC southpaw, he answered the door, punched opportunity in the nose and took its milk money. In six innings, Silva allowed three hits and two walks while striking out five batters. He stranded seven base runners, including two in scoring position.
“He was able to locate his pitches and had some effective wildness,” Biagi said. “A lot of guys are banged up right now, and tired, but they continue to fight. To do what we’ve done in the last two games says a lot about these guys’ willingness to compete.”
Walla Walla begins its final home series of the season tonight with Game 1 of a three-game set against last-place Kelowna. It closes the regular season with a three-game series at Bend, starting Friday
Bend currently has 30 victories — second in the WCL — and needs just one victory or a Medford loss to clinch a playoff berth out of the South.
Sweets 4, Victoria 3
Victoria 000 000 030 0 — 3 6 0
Walla Walla 110 000 010 1 — 4 7 1
Rowe, Cuneo (8), Kuzminsky (8) and D. Schuknecht; Se. Silva, Houser (7), Harris (8), Hall (8), Brija and Miroglio, Reay (9).
HR — WW, Martinez.
Hits: Victoria: J. Schuknecht 2, Lewis, D. Schuknecht, LaVelle, Urabe; WW: Martinez, Wylie, Paulson, Skrbec, Sc. Silva, Herkins 2.