Clubhouse of fighters
GJ Rox rally but fall short in slugfest with Orem
Anthony Sanders is starting to see what Tony Diaz saw all last summer.
The Grand Junction Rockies aren’t going to win every game, but they’re not going to go quietly, either.
Despite falling behind 6-1 after two innings Monday night, the Rockies rallied against Orem, falling 9-8 to split the four-game series at Suplizio Field.
“I like the situation we’re in right now,” said Sanders, the Rockies’ first-year manager. “We’ve got a lot of fighters in the clubhouse.”
Defensive problems early on cost the Rockies’ Joel Payamps (2-1), who gave up six runs, but only three earned, in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked one, but two errors led to the Owlz’ four-run second inning.
“We kicked the ball around early, and they kicked it around late and let us back in the game,” Sanders said. “But a lot of fight from the hitters and the pitchers stepped up late in the game. That’s a good sign to see early in the season.”
Orem (5-7) was blanked from the third through the fifth innings by Payamps, who left after recording his seventh strikeout. An infield hit by Raul Linares, a balk by reliever Daniel Palo and Jose Rondon’s RBI triple to right made it 7-2 in the sixth.
A defensive play by the Rockies (8-4) to end the inning seemed to spark the offense.
With one out and Rondon on third, Eric Aguilera hit a line drive to right. Jordan Patterson played it perfectly, getting his momentum going toward the ball and unleashing a rope to the plate. Jose Briceno withstood the collision at home and held onto the ball despite rolling into the left-handed batter’s box.
“I’m ready for this moment,” said Briceno, who admitted he was a little jarred by the play. “When the throw is coming, I say, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s coming.’ My job is to catch the ball first and (hang on). I felt that, but it’s good.”
And as fate would have it, Briceno led off the bottom of the sixth, lashing his third straight double of the game, this one to right-center.
“I went in the dugout and drank a little water, and I’m good,” said Briceno, who said getting Sunday off gave his legs a chance to rest. “I’m continuing with my plan, see the ball and hit the ball. I don’t try to hit the bombs, the home runs, I just try to hit the ball hard.”
Patterson said he felt a little bit bad for the hit Briceno took.
“I got put in good position to do it, and it worked out,” Patterson said. “You can’t say enough about Jose Briceno; he stood in there and took the lick and held onto it. He’s a bulldog in there. That was awesome.”
Briceno scored the Rockies’ first three runs, and in the seventh, he hit a two-run home run to score Terry McClure, who was hit by a pitch and stole second. McClure had taken off for third when Briceno lined his fourth home run of the season to left.
Miguel Dilone led off the seventh with his first home run of the season.
Orem made it 9-6 in the eighth, scoring one run on an error and another on Aguilera’s RBI double to left.
Dilone scored from second in the eighth inning after drawing a two-out walk. With the speedy McClure on first, a snap throw from Orem catcher Zac Livingston got away from Aguilera, allowing Dilone to score and cut the lead to 9-7.
In the ninth, Ryan McMahon walked and moved around on three wild pitches by reliever Garrett Bush, and with two out, Patterson reached on an error. Ramiel Tapia swung at a pitch that bounced in the dirt, and Patterson took off for second, but Livingston’s throw was in time to end the game.
“We were down 6-1 early in the game, and look at the scoreboard, it’s 9-8, 11 hits, 11 hits, and three errors (each),” Sanders said. “It kind of came down to making plays. To fight back, I can’t ask for any more from these kids.”
Grand Junction pitcher Devin Burke, who is 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA in the first week of the season, was selected the Pioneer League pitcher of the week Monday.
Burke, who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech, has 11 strikeouts and only one walk in 11 innings this season.