You don't have to hit the ball out of the park to win baseball games, even at hitter-friendly Suplizio Field.
You do, however, need to come through with men on base in key situations, and the Grand Junction Rockies put on a situational hitting display Wednesday night in a 5-4 victory over the Great Falls Voyagers.
Christian Koss had a pair of two-run singles, including driving in the final two runs of the game in the Rockies' three-run seventh inning. His base hit was the fourth straight two-out single the Rockies strung together to score three runs.
"Big two-out hits by (Eddy) Diaz and then Koss, to put us over the top," Grand Junction manager Jake Opitz said. "That was good to see because we've been back and forth with our situational hitting but tonight we executed and it was the difference in the game."
The Rockies work on situational hitting every day, whether it's hitting with two out, two strikes, runners on the corners, whatever.
"That's all we can do is talk to them about it, work on it, put them in situations in batting practice like that, but it's up to them to do at game time," Opitz said.
Cristopher Navarro was the first one to come through in that category Wednesday, lashing a base hit down the first-base line on a hit-and-run in the second inning, sending Yolki Pena to third. With one out and a full count on Koss, the Voyagers, who lost their seventh straight road game, brought the infield in. Koss did exactly what he needed to do, lifting a line drive over shortstop to get two runs home.
"When the infield's in you try to elevate a little more," Koss said. "You don't have as much room to ground up the middle or something like that. I was down two strikes early and had to see a couple of tough pitches, but all in all it's about getting the ball through the middle.
"Especially when they're in like that, the more middle you can be the more chance you have. In both situations tonight that was my particular goal."
Grand Junction starter Mike Ruff faced only 10 batters in his three innings, allowing one hit. Miguel Ausua gave up a car-denting home run to Luis Mieses in the fourth inning, and the defense prevented the tying run from scoring — momentarily — in the fifth on a terrific play at the plate.
Tyus Greene doubled over Walking Cabrera's head in right field, but he played the ball perfectly off the wall and got the relay to Diaz, who threw a one-hopper to the plate. Max George picked the ball cleanly and got the tag on Cameron Simmons just before he touched the plate.
"That's a heck of a pickup at the plate by George," Opitz said. "Probably only a former middle infielder makes that play."
George said it brought back memories of plays at second base, and credited his former position with making the catch.
"I had one or two (plays at the plate) earlier but that was for sure one of the hardest because it was a weird hop a little bit, but it was fun, brought back some good memories," George said.
Great Falls (9-13) tied the game one hit later, and took a 3-2 lead in the sixth before Grand Junction (13-11) rallied in the seventh.
With two out, Pena got it started with a single to right and Navarro, down in the count, punched a single up the middle. Diaz who had struck out in his previous two at-bats, his swing getting a little too big, also shortened up on an 0-2 pitch and drove the ball up the middle, scoring Pena with the tying run.
"He's good at making those adjustments in-game," Opitz said. "Some guys it'll take them a game or two games, but he's good at-bat to at-bat. He shortened up and all we needed was a base hit right there and we had some guys do that tonight."
Koss was the fourth straight hitter to shorten up and think middle, scoring Navarro and Diaz for a 5-3 lead.
"We had seen the guy (Karan Patel) for the second inning and he was throwing a lot of sliders," Koss said "We talked about it in the dugout, we were going to see a lot of them, shorten up and stay through the middle. That's your best in that situation and we did it four times in a row."
Jacob Kostyshock pitched out of a jam in the eighth and turned the game over to Gavin Hollowell in the ninth.
The 6-foot-7 right-hander out of St. John's gave up a leadoff double, but Simmons was thrown out at third when Navarro elected to get the lead runner on a ground ball to short. A base hit and groundout scored one run and Great Falls had the tying run on first with one out.
Hollowell threw three straight strikes to end the game and earn his fourth save.
"Gavin's one of those guys, I think he has four saves already, he's nasty," George said. "He's a guy that we can count on coming in and closing the game and getting the job done."