Close encounter

Eighth-inning rally lifts Rockies to win in pitching duel

Grand Junction’s Matt Wessinger eyes Idaho Falls catcher Jin-Ho Shin on Friday night after scoring the winning run in the eighth inning of the Rockies’ 2-1 victory over the Chukars at Suplizio Field. Wessinger scored on a wild pitch by Idaho Falls’ Alec Mills, right.

You don’t get many 2-1 games in Rookie baseball.

It happened Friday night at Suplizio Field.

The Grand Junction Rockies scored two runs with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning to slip past Idaho Falls 2-1.

“This is probably one of the best games I’ve been part of at this level,” Grand Junction manager Tony Diaz said. “You’ve got to tip your cap to their pitcher (Andrew Ferguson). This ballgame, I didn’t feel like it was at this level.”

The win vaulted Grand Junction (10-9) past Idaho Falls (9-10) into second place in the South Division of the Pioneer League. The Rockies are one game behind Ogden, which was routed 12-3 by Orem.

Ogden comes to Suplizio Field tonight for the first of a three-game series. Grand Junction is 0-5 against the Raptors this season, all on the road.

David Dahl came up with the crucial hit in the eighth, but it was a hit batsman that made it possible.

With one out, Franmy Pena was plunked by Matt Strahm, who pitched at Suplizio only a few weeks ago with Neosho County (Kan.) Community College in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

“There are a couple of scenarios that could be easily overlooked,” Diaz said. “The way Franmy caught, he was incredibly better than his previous game behind the plate. The guy did a great job, and his at-bats, he got a key walk and a key hit by pitch. Those are key at-bats.

“You look at the box score, and he’s 0 for 1, but in our minds that’s a winning effort from him.”

Strahm got Juan Ciriaco, the Rockies’ leading hitter, to fly out to right, but he was lifted in favor of right-hander Alec Mills.

Matt Wessinger greeted him with a sharp single to left, sending Pena to second.

Dahl, who had flied out to left field in his previous three at-bats, saw the same pitch one last time. On an 0-2 count, Dahl laced a double down the left-field line, scoring Pena from second to tie the game 1-1.

“They were backdoor curving me the whole game, and I had a feeling they would do that again,” Dahl said. “I just stayed and went with it and got the runner in.

“That’s what you live for, to come up in those situations. I just took a deep breath and got in the box and told myself, ‘You can do this.’ “

With Wessinger at third and Dahl at second, Ryan Garvey swung at a third strike, but the pitch was wild. Wessinger easily scored what became the winning run as Garvey sprinted to first.

“Coach was saying at third base, ‘Be ready for a passed ball, be ready for a passed ball,’ ” Wessinger said. “I wanted to make sure it got away and I was ready to score; whatever we needed to get that run in.”

Before the Rockies’ rally in the eighth, Idaho Falls’ Ysmelin Alcantara had the only hit of the game that mattered — a solo home run just past a leaping Jeff Popick in left field. The ball landed in the first row of the bleachers, just beyond Popick’s reach.

“I was yelling to Popick, ‘Rob it, rob it!’ ” Dahl said. “He got up there. It was real close.”

The home run came on the first at-bat against Ryan Warner, who relieved Eddie Butler in the fifth inning.

Butler allowed back-to-back singles to open the second inning, but a strikeout and two ground balls got him out of that inning. He struck out three and didn’t walk a batter.

Warner (2-0) threw the next four innings, allowing the home run and a double in the eighth, but he left Jared Schlehuber stranded with a strikeout and ground ball. He walked only one and fanned three for the win.

Scott Oberg gave up a leadoff single in the ninth, but picked up his second save by retiring the next three men.

“Pitching is the key. We don’t pitch the way we did tonight, we lose this game,” Diaz said. “Who knows? We don’t have a chance to come back. It starts and ends with the pitching, and that’s why we cannot stress that enough.”

Ferguson was spectacular for seven innings, allowing only four hits, walking one and striking out five Grand Junction batters. The hit batter came back to hurt Strahm, who faced three batters, and Mills took the loss, giving up the back-to-back hits and the crucial wild pitch.

Grand Junction, which was averaging 10.2 hits and 6.3 runs per game before Friday night, kept it close with its pitching and defense, winning its second one-run game of the season. Grand Junction had six hits, Idaho Falls five.

“All year it’s been pretty easy for us (to score),” Wessinger said. “We’ve been averaging seven runs a game. To be a close game, with all the little things winning baseball games, it proves we can do everything on this team. It’s not just a bunch of bats hitting the ball all over the park.”


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