Four-run fifth lifts franchise to third straight win, first at home
If you didn’t know the Grand Junction Rockies rolled into town at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, you would never have been able to tell.
Pulling energy from 4,850 fans at Suplizio Field in the home opener, the Rockies picked up their third straight victory and first home win in club history, 10-6 over the Idaho Falls Chukars.
“It’s hard not to get pumped with 5,000 fans in the stands,” manager Tony Diaz said. “And the way the fans were into it; that was a factor that helped us.”
Both clubs drove overnight from Idaho Falls to Grand Junction, and the players were quick to hit the pillow.
“I had my own seat (on the bus), but that didn’t really work out,” starting pitcher Josh Mueller said. “I got home, fell asleep right away, woke up at 2:30 and came to the field.”
Mueller went 5 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits. He struck out three and didn’t walk a batter.
“Mentally, I just got on the mound and saw all those people,” he said. “I haven’t thrown in front of that kind of crowd probably since my freshman year (at Eastern Illinois) in regionals. I tried to make good pitches, but my defense made better plays behind me.
“Opening the season here at a new place in front of a crowd that’s really excited about baseball makes it that much better.”
Diaz was happy with the performance of Mueller and all three relievers.
“I’m very happy with how Mueller performed. Walks were not an issue for him,” Diaz said. “You want to throw quality strikes in the zone. They were up a little bit, but we can work on that.”
Cesar Galvez got the crowd into the game from the Rockies’ first at-bat, lining a triple to the wall in center off starter Clayton Schulz and scoring on a passed ball.
Idaho Falls (3-3) took a 3-2 lead in the third on a two-run home run by Rainier Bello, but Grand Junction broke it open with four runs in the fifth, triggered by a ground-rule double by David Dahl. The left-handed hitter lined a shot down the third-base line that went under the wall padding in foul territory.
“I thought it was foul,” said Dahl, who took off late out of the box, but turned on his speed to easily reach second before the play was called dead. “I looked back at the umpire, and he said it was fair, so I started running. I was happy. That was a big hit right there.”
Galvez was sent back to third. After Julian Yan walked to load the bases, Galvez and Dahl scored on a line-drive base hit to right by Jason Stolz.
Idaho Falls got a solo home run in the eighth by Carlos Garcia and a towering two-run shot to left in the ninth by Jin-Ho Shin, but that was after the Rockies (3-3) picked up a run in the sixth and three in the eighth.
Colorado Mesa graduate Jeff Popick walked to lead off the eighth and came home on Ryan Garvey’s second home run in as many nights, into the left-field stands. It was the first home run for the Rockies at home. Grand Junction had a dozen hits, Idaho Falls eight.
“I tied my college number there, hoping for more to come,” Garvey said. “I knew I got ahold of it, but I got under it a little bit. With the high altitude it kept going.”
Yan beat out an infield single with two out, and Stolz doubled off the wall in left for a 10-4 lead.
Knowing how to play the double-decker wall came into play for the Rockies in the fourth. Idaho Falls’ Parker Morin lined a base hit off the wall, and Popick, who played left field at Suplizio most of his college career, played the carom perfectly.
Morin made a big turn at first, thinking he could get a double, but tried to scramble back to first. Popick threw to Matt Wessinger at second, who relayed to Miguel De Leon at first for the out.
“I played a couple balls off that wall,” Popick said. “At first I saw it off the bat, and I started running after it. I lost it for a second in the sun, but I knew it wasn’t going to take a hard kick, so I got closer to the wall.
“It bounced right up. I reminded myself to field it first and make a good throw. You don’t want to turn it into a triple.”
The crowd roared its approval for that play and every other play the Rockies made.
“That was awesome,” said Stolz, who was 3 for 5 with three RBI. “The crowd had a lot of energy, and we’re glad they came out and had a good time and we were able to perform for them.
“We’ve been on the road, so when we did something good, there weren’t a lot of people cheering for us. It was good to be here and hear them roaring for us. It was definitely a good atmosphere, and I hope they keep showing up.”