GJ Rox lose, still clinch 1st-half title
The sparkling cider was wheeled away during the ninth inning Saturday night.
The on-field celebration was scrubbed after Idaho Falls scored two runs in the top of the ninth inning to break a 3-3 tie and defeat the Grand Junction Rockies 5-3 at Suplizio Field.
“All that matters is clinching, right?” said right fielder Ryan Garvey as the rain started pelting down after the game.
They did clinch the first-half title in the Pioneer League South. But instead of dancing on the field, the celebration was in the clubhouse about a half-hour later.
They huddled around computer screens to see Ogden defeat Orem 12-8 and knock the Owlz from first-half title contention and send the Rockies to the playoffs for the second straight year after a 10-year drought.
It’s much different than last summer, when they didn’t clinch a playoff spot until Sept. 3, only three days before the end of the regular season, but celebrated on the field with age-appropriate bubbly.
“Aw, yeah, we would have liked to take care of business ourself, but it’ll be nice to get in and to know we’re in the playoffs for sure,” said first baseman Correlle Prime, who was part of last year’s on-field party.
“That was kind of cool last year. It would have been nice to win, but it’s a crazy game. We come out tomorrow and win, we’re in and it doesn’t matter what Orem or Ogden does.”
The Rockies will play the second-half winner of the South Division in the playoffs in September.
First-round draft pick Jon Gray was in line for his first win, throwing five solid innings and allowing one run on five hits.
He was on a 75-pitch/five-inning limit, and used almost every pitch, finishing with 73, 52 for strikes.
“A lot better. I felt way more comfortable,” Gray said. “I didn’t care as much about results, I just went out there and worked on stuff. Every outing I’ve had it’s getting better every time.”
The third inning was a little bumpy, when he allowed his only run on three straight singles.
“He set the tone,” manager Anthony Sanders said. “You can tell from Day 1 to now, he’s worked on his command and his change-up and he’s going to be a polished pitcher when it’s all said and done.”
Gray needed only eight pitches — seven strikes — in the second, allowing only a double to Cody Stubbs.
“A good game plan and making a lot of big pitches when I needed to,” Gray said of his fourth start. “When they got guys in scoring position, I made good pitches, then had a lot of good defense behind me.”
Raimel Tapia’s first-inning double not only extended his hitting streak to 25 games, but it gave the Rockies their first run. Jose Briceno singled him home, pushing his hitting streak to 13 games.
It was 2-1 after the fourth when Zach Osborne singled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Correlle Prime. Ryan Garvey tripled and scored in the fifth for a 3-1 lead, when Gray turned the game over to Devin Burke.
Burke had a rare shaky inning, though, giving up two runs on three hits, including a two-run double off the wall by Alexis Rivera that tied the game.
It stayed that way until the ninth, when a two-out, broken-bat single to right by Hunter Dozier scored the go-ahead run against Carlos Yan. A wild pitch gave the Chukars an insurance run.
The Rockies went down in order in the ninth — they did not strand a runner on base the entire game.
“We didn’t get many on base,” Prime said. “That’s how it is sometimes. They’ve been executing some pitches early on and they’ve been throwing inside effectively. We just couldn’t get enough mustard toward the end to get some runs.”
The Chukars turned three double plays and three Grand Junction base runners were picked off when pitchers threw to first as the Rockies were attempting to steal second.
“A tough ballgame,” Sanders said. “I think the bullpen killed us toward the end. We were in it the whole way and it kind of got away, but the guys have been playing good ball.”
With a playoff spot secured, the Rockies can relax and play.
“Now we can go focus on playing ball and having fun,” Gray said, “fly around the yard and have fun.”
NOTES: David Dahl, last year’s Pioneer League MVP and the Rockies’ first-round draft pick, will report back to Asheville today. Dahl has been in Scottsdale, Ariz., most of the summer with a torn hamstring. Dahl said Saturday in a message on Twitter that he will continue to rehab the injury and do pre-game work with the club until he’s cleared to play. ... Patrick Johnson, who pitched in Grand Junction last season, was promoted from Class A Asheville to Class A Advanced Modesto. Johnson was 3-3 with a 2.83 ERA for the Tourists, but had allowed only one run in his past 10 outings, an ERA of 0.96 in 9 1/3 innings. He had allowed five hits, with nine strikeouts in those 10 games.