It was a special night at PK Park on Tuesday. While the team celebrated National Night Out featuring los Monarcas de Eugene, a familiar face returned to Eugene — former Oregon Duck Kenyon Yovan.
The last time Yovan was at PK Park, he was sitting outside the Oregon dugout by himself on June 7. The Ducks had just lost to the LSU Tigers and been eliminated from the Eugene Regional, and both teams had already cleared the field. Yovan sat there for what most people assumed as his last time at PK Park.
Call it destiny, or just luck of the draw, but Yovan made his return to PK Park on Tuesday. The circumstances were a bit different though, as Yovan, now a member of the Los Angeles Angels organization, was part of the visiting Tri-City Dust Devils. He entered the night with a .385 average and 1.269 OPS in his first four professional games.
He appeared eager to be back at his old stomping grounds, being the first Tri-City position player to come out and start stretching. He was joined by fellow former Duck Kyle Kasser in the Dust Devils’ lineup. The two were teammates in 2017 and 2018.
But the Emeralds spoiled the first game of Yovan’s homecoming, beating the Dust Devils 11-4 to take the first game of the series. Right-hander Ryan Murphy pitched a successful Emeralds debut while three homers powered the offense to victory.
Murphy got the start in his debut for the Emeralds. He was promoted to Eugene after recording 116 strikeouts in 76 innings with a 2.96 ERA for Low-A San Jose.
In Yovan’s first at-bat back at PK Park, Murphy got the best of the slugger, striking him out swinging.
The Emeralds struck in the bottom of the first, as Ismael Munguia led off with a “double” that was lost in the sun, and Armani Smith drove him in by poking a single into right field.
After retiring the first six Dust Devils, Murphy gave up a walk and a single to start the third inning. With Yovan looming on deck, Murphy recorded his fourth strikeout of the night to hold the 1-0 lead.
The Emeralds extended their lead to 3-0 in the third, as Brett Auerbach smacked a two-run homer.
Heath Quinn added two more with a two-run homer of his own in the fourth. The Emeralds kept piling on, as three consecutive doubles from Tyler Flores, Munguia and Auerbach made it 7-0.
Former Duck Kasser doubled in the fifth, but Murphy recorded his seventh strikeout as he rolled through five scoreless innings.
A couple self-inflicted wounds got Murphy into some trouble in the sixth — shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald made a throwing error and Murphy hit Yovan with a pitch. After walking the bases loaded with one out, he was taken out of the game.
Bryce Tucker replaced Murphy. He induced a fly ball that left fielder Franklin Labour dropped, allowing the Dust Devils to get their first run on the board. A bloop single knocked in two more, and a sacrifice fly brought in the fourth run of the inning.
Kasser collected his second hit in the last two innings, knocking Tucker out of the game as his struggles continued. Three of the runs were charged to Murphy, but were unearned.
Tucker was replaced by Nick Avila, a usual starter for the Emeralds who has been struggling as well. Avila calmed the storm with a strikeout to keep the Emeralds up by three runs.
The first three Emeralds batters reached base in the bottom of the seventh. Sean Roby then blew it open with a grand slam to right-center field to make it 11-4, allowing the fans to breathe a little easier.
Avila wound up turning in 2 1/3 hitless innings in relief, a much-needed performance for him. Tyler Schimpf came on for the ninth and allowed a one-out double and a walk. Up came Yovan, who laid off one good breaking ball but swung and missed at the next two. Schimpf settled down to shut the door on the 11-4 victory.
The Emeralds (45-34) will continue with the second game of their series against the last-place Dust Devils (31-48) on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m.