Waldrip’s HR lifts Rockies past Mustangs
Ben Waldrip fouled off pitches to the backstop. He fouled off pitches down the first-base line. More into the stands behind third base. One deep over the right-field stands. One into the Billings bullpen that was nearly caught, but over-run.
That did it. Tied 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Waldrip, after fouling off 11 pitches in a 17-pitch at-bat, launched his seventh home run of the season deep over the right-field wall.
The two-run shot gave the Rockies (19-16) a 4-3 victory over Billings (18-17) and kept them tied for the Pioneer League South lead with three games left in the first half.
“He kept throwing that changeup,” Waldrip said. “I was waiting for a slider, but he didn’t throw one, so I don’t think he had one. He threw a couple of fastballs and kept throwing changeups.
“He hung that last one and I was thinking fly ball to the outfield to get him in and I got enough of it to get it out of here.”
With one out and Julian Yan on second after a walk and a passed ball, Waldrip kept getting just enough of the ball to extend his at-bat. On a 2-2 count, Jose Amezcua threw a wild pitch to get Yan to third and all Waldrip was thinking was fly ball.
But first, a few more foul balls before the one that eluded three Billings fielders near the third-base bullpen. Then came the hanging changeup and Waldrip had the mistake pitch he wanted, hitting a line shot over the right-field wall as his ever-growing fan club, including his mother, in the first-base stands went nuts.
“It was a remarkable a-b and it’s even bigger not only because of the situation, because he struggled prior to that,” Grand Junction manager Tony Diaz said. “That shows why you keep pressing and stay positive, because you don’t know when that last a-b is going to be the most important one. He really epitomized that tonight.”
Waldrip’s first three at-bats weren’t ones to remember. He struck out in the second inning and Yan, running on the pitch, was thrown out at second for a double play
He grounded out to first in the fifth inning and with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth, grounded to first, starting an inning-ending double play.
He also made an error at first, knocking down a ground ball, but couldn’t find it between his feet in the second inning, which led to Billings’ second run of the night.
Diaz tells the young Rockies to play each inning, forgetting about the previous. Waldrip took him at his word in the eighth, and heeded the advice of minor league catching instructor Marv Foley, who has been in Grand Junction this week.
“He’s one of my favorite guys. He can joke around with you but also teach you stuff at the same time,” Waldrip said. “He told me, ‘Keep your head on the ball, you’re pulling off it,’ so we worked on it on the tee and in bp.
“Thanks to Marv, having me keep my head down.”
Grand Junction starter Matt Carasiti scuffled through five innings, allowing two runs, but got out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the third.
Shawn Stuart and Brian Rike set up Scott Oberg, who gave up an RBI double after a throwing error in the ninth, but got a groundout and strikeout to end the game, picking up his seventh save.
Rike (3-1) got the win with a perfect eighth inning, striking out two of three men he faced.
“Watching Ben foul off all those balls after getting the guy to third on a (wild pitch), we just knew something was going to happen,” Oberg said of the adrenaline rush he got before taking the mound. “A base hit or a sac fly, and he ends up coming up with a home run.”
Juan Ciriaco squeezed home the tying run in the seventh. Jason Stolz singled and took second on a wild pitch, then hustled to third when no one covered on Correlle Prime’s infield single.
With Ciriaco at the plate, Stolz took off with the pitch and easily scored when Ciriaco got the bunt down.
“It sometimes works out where we get the right elements,” Diaz said of the squeeze. “Speed and ability to handle the bat (with Ciriaco) and that was a really nice setup. Juan can handle the bat and Stolzy can run, so we took our chances.”
Center fielder David Dahl was a late scratch because of the flu and was sent home before the game. Diaz said he hopes it’s a 24-hour bug and Dahl will be ready to play today.
The Rockies will get another catcher today, but Michael Ramirez might not reach Grand Junction before game time. Ramirez is flying in from Tri-City in Pasco, Wash. He played for Diaz in Casper last season.
“He’s a really solid catch-and-throw guy, which we need,” Diaz said. “It’s nice to have a guy that’s hard to run on. We’ll have him for that trip (to Idaho Falls). I’m sure he’s looking forward to a nine-hour road trip when he gets here.”