Double the fun
Wall's timely home run helps GJ Rockies earn split of DH
Things got a little too close Thursday night.
Forrest Wall helped take care of that, smacking a home run off one of the elevated signs in right field to lead off the sixth inning in Grand Junction’s 8-3 victory over Billings.
The win gave the Rockies (34-21, 11-6) a doubleheader split and kept them in first place in the Pioneer League South by two games over Idaho Falls.
Wall couldn’t help but grin about the home run afterwards, because his namesake was watching him play professional baseball for the first time.
His maternal grandfather, Forrest Winkler, traveled from Arizona this week. Wednesday’s rainout delayed his first glimpse of his grandson in a professional game by one day, but Wall made it worth the wait.
“That was a good one to see,” Wall said. “For Grandpa. Yeah, it was a fun one. I’m glad he got to see that. Named after him, I’m proud to say.”
Wall’s second home run of the season gave the Rockies a 5-3 lead after the Mustangs, who won the opener 7-2, had pulled within one run on back-to-back home runs in the sixth inning.
With Nate Causey and Wes Rogers on base with two out, Dom Nunez laced an opposite-field double into the left-field corner and came home on a wild pitch to put the game away.
Causey said nothing much was said after the Mustangs rallied.
“We’re pretty confident in our timely hitting,” he said. “Dom especially has been very clutch with timely hitting. We had a good part of the lineup coming up, so we just let it happen.”
Craig Schlitter, who gave up the two home runs in the sixth, a deep drive over the right-field wall by Argenis Alzadoro and one into the left field bleachers by Alex Greer, retired the Mustangs in order in the seventh for his first save.
Javier Palacios (4-4) was stellar in his five innings, allowing only one run on five hits. He struck out four.
“He works low and hits spots, and that’s how he doesn’t get hit,” said Causey, who caught his first complete game of the season. “A couple of instances he got it up, and the umpire wasn’t giving us anything down, but he pitched great.”
Causey, who played first base in the first game of the day, has become the Rockies’ third catcher with Troy Stein out after thumb surgery. He doubled home Wall for the Rockies’ first run of the nightcap and reached base three times, scoring three runs.
“Catching is a whole other beast, so you have to mentally prepare for it,” Causey said. “They let me know ahead of time, so that was good.”
Causey had Tommy John surgery last summer and didn’t do a lot of catching early this past spring at Arizona State. Toward the end of the season, though, he was cleared to catch, and he even moved from first to behind the plate in games, so having a half-hour between position switches was a bonus.
During practice, Causey splits his time, learning about the different pitchers on the fly.
“I catch as many bullpens as I can during practice, so that helps me get comfortable with them,” he said. “Anything you do, it’s different in the game. Hamlet (Marte) and Dom do a good job working with those guys all year. I’m just doing what I can to get on that level.”
In the opener, the Rockies’ bats were shut down by Billings starter Wyatt Strahan, who threw four solid innings, allowing two runs on six hits and striking out five.
The loss snapped Grand Junction’s season-best six-game win streak.
It was a 2-2 game until the Mustangs broke loose for five runs against Grand Junction starter Sam Howard in the fourth inning, sending nine men to the plate.
Greer, who won an NJCAA national title at Suplizio Field in 2012 with Iowa Western Community College, delivered a two-run double off the wall in center and scored on the back end of a double steal.
Howard’s night ended in the fourth when he took a hard line drive off his left leg. Marc Magliaro replaced him, allowing an RBI double to Aristides Aquino before striking out Kevin Franklin. Howard (1-3) took the loss, allowing all seven runs on eight hits. He struck out seven.
Rafael Betancourt threw a perfect fifth inning, his first appearance since straining his groin last week.
The players changed out of their pinstriped jerseys into purple for the second game and started over.
“We just wanted to turn the page and come out and play how we play,” Wall said, “aggressive on the bases and getting good pitches to hit, and we did that tonight.”
Outfielder Wilson Soriano was promoted to Class A (short season) Tri-City and left town Thursday morning.
The Rockies now have five outfielders, making manager Anthony Sanders’ job a little bit easier finding them playing time. Sanders said after the game the club will miss Soriano, one of their top defensive outfielders.
■ U.S. military veterans can get a free ticket to Sunday’s game at Robin’s Nest of Antiques, 558 Main St. The Grand Junction Lions donated the tickets.