Late HR dooms GJ in Game 1 of playoffs

TODD BENNETT/Special to The Daily Sentinel Grand Junction's Colin Simpson is congratulated by manager Jake Opitz as he rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game at 1-1. The Rockies lost 2-1.

It was a good pitch, down in the zone.

It was a better swing.

"The 0-2 by (Jacob) Kostyshock that was down in the zone, he just got the barrel on it and it barely got out," Grand Junction Rockies manager Jake Opitz said Sunday night.

Andrew Shaps, a late-inning defensive replacement for Ogden, hit a solo home run that just cleared the right-field wall in the ninth inning for a 2-1 victory in Game 1 of the Pioneer League South Division playoffs at Suplizio Field.

"I talked to Kosty about that pitch he threw that got out," Pioneer League MVP Colin Simpson said. "He told me he would throw that pitch 10 out of 10 times. He said that in his mind it was a really good pitch. Sometimes it happens, hitters make good swings and you have to tip your cap. I said sometimes it's worse situations than others, but it happens. He said, 'I know, I know.' ''

The ball was just out of the reach of a leaping Brenton Doyle, and the Rockies couldn't get the tying run on base against Nick Robertson, who retired Grand Junction in order in the bottom of the ninth.

After Ronaiker Palma flied out to center to end the game, Ogden center fielder Andy Pages threw the ball over the center field wall, which infuriated Palma and his teammates.

Both dugouts cleared as the players jawed at one other on the first-base line, but were separated by the umpires and coaching staffs.

"That's who he is," Opitz said of Pages. "He's going to get somebody hurt."

Pages slid into second base with his cleats high earlier this season at Suplizio, which had he and Christian Koss exchanging words.

"I don't know, that center fielder sparks everything that happens," Simpson said. "Why he had to throw the ball over center field, I don't understand what his thought process was on that or what he's doing there. That got Palma a little fired up. ... Emotions run high, especially in the playoffs."

Opitz is hoping the incident sparks his team tonight in Ogden, or the Rockies' season will be over — the Pioneer League playoffs are a best-of-three series.

"It might be a good thing for us," he said, "fire us up. We're not going to back down from anybody. We'll be ready to go tomorrow."

The ending put a damper on what had been a exceptionally well-pitched game on both sides.

Helcris Olivarez struck out five in five innings and got himself out of back-to-back jams in the fourth and fifth innings. In the fourth, the Raptors loaded the bases with one out, but Olivarez struck out Marco Hernandez and got Jon Littell to ground out to Simpson at first base.

Olivarez came off the field slapping his glove in celebration, and left two runners stranded in the fifth by getting leadoff hitter Jimmy Titus and Pages to fly out.

"He really did show a lot of heart there," Opitz said of the 19-year-old left-hander who is the 26th-ranked prospect in Colorado's organization. "He made pitches when he had to get out of jams. The sixth inning I was going back and forth whether to send him back out there or not. The leadoff walk, I went and got Boby (Johnson). I had him up a couple of times and Boby's been really good."

Johnson struck out the first man he faced, then gave up a base hit before striking out Littell. Ramon Rodriquez hit a chopper over the mound for an infield single to load and Johnson, who, like Olivarez, was ahead in the count on nearly every batter he faced, walked Jeremy Arocho on four pitches.

Simpson responded with his 19th home run of the season, an 380-foot shot over the video board in right-center, with one out in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game.

"Actually, right before I had that at-bat I was in the dugout talking to Eddy Diaz and he goes, 'You. Now. Home run.' I said, 'all right, Eddy, I'll hit a home run for you this at-bat,' '' Simpson said with a grin.

"I hit it and came in (the dugout) and he was dying laughing, he thought it was the funniest thing that ever happened. We needed a really, a spark, a double, something to get things going. He ended up making a mistake and threw a fastball right down the middle and I was ready for it and didn't miss it."

The Raptors weren't going to take a chance on Simpson not missing another pitch, intentionally walking him with two out in the eighth, opting to face league batting champion Doyle, who hit a two-strike single to right, sending Simpson to third. Bladimir Restituyo struck out to end the threat.

"Offensively we couldn't get over the hump, we couldn't get the big hit when we needed it," Opitz said. "We had a chance in the eighth and didn't create enough opportunities there."

Losing Koss, who broke a bone in his left forearm last week when he was hit by a pitch, hurts the Rockies' offense.

"He's probably been our most consistent hitter and our 3-hole hitter most of the year," Opitz said. "Big loss, but it's a matter of someone else stepping up."

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