The Billings Mustangs received yet another top-notch pitching performance as four hurlers combined to keep the Pioneer League’s second-most potent offense in check for the third straight night, but it wasn’t enough as the Great Falls Voyagers defeated the Mustangs 3-2 in front of 2,841 fans on Saturday night at Dehler Park.
“Our bullpen has carried us the entire season,” Mustangs manager Delino DeShields said. “(Starting pitcher Jonathan) Correa pitched well for us tonight. His command wasn’t what it was the last time out but he pitched well enough tonight.”
Correa, along with relievers Matt Leonard, Mike Henry and Porfirio Martinez combined to limit the Voyagers’ offense to just three runs while scattering five hits — two categories in which Great Falls ranks second in the league — to keep their teammates in the game.
“We changed our approach (from last night),” said Voyagers catcher Mike Blanke, who silenced the home crowd with a game-tying double in the third inning. “They have a great pitching staff and we didn’t get a whole lot of pitches to hit the last few nights.”
Correa walked two batters in the third inning before allowing Blanke’s two-out, two-run double down the left-field line.
“I was actually looking for a fastball in that situation,” said Blanke. “But he threw me a slider and I was able to get it down the line and (Ryan) Hamme did a nice job of scoring from first base.”
The Mustangs took the lead in the bottom half of the second inning on monstrous back-to-back home runs from Donald Lutz and Juan Duran.
They were the fourth and fifth home runs for the Mustangs in the last three games, but the Ponies’ offense couldn’t muster much more the rest of the way.
“It’s nice to see the guys swing the bats like that, but it’s not our game plan,” said DeShields. “We seemed to be a little out of whack after that and not quite ourselves.”
Following the home runs, Great Falls starter Stephen McCray settled down to retire 12 of the final 13 batters he faced.
“He kept his composure and kept battling to get the outs he needed,” Voyagers manager Chris Cron said. “He gave up two home runs that were hit very well and did a great job for us.”
After the Mustangs went down in order in the bottom half of the third, Michael Earley hit his fifth home run of the season to give the Voyagers the final 3-2 margin.
“It’s the little things that win you games and when you play the good the teams those things are even bigger,” said DeShields.
From there the Mustangs bullpen took over, led by Leonard who tossed three scoreless innings and allowed just one hit while striking out four Great Falls hitters. Henry and Martinez then came in to pitch a perfect eighth and ninth, striking out four of the six hitters they faced.
But the offense couldn’t muster much else as they stranded six runners and were 0 for 3 at the plate with runners in scoring position, including a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Devin Lohman walked and advanced to third on a line drive that hit off McCray’s glove and ultimately ended up in shallow center field after Jeff Tezak couldn’t make the play at second base. Following a two-out walk to Danny Hernandez, first baseman Jared McDonald made a fully extended diving catch in foul territory off the bat of Oliver Santos to end the inning.
“The last couple of nights we’ve been lucky and got the win,” said DeShields. “But tonight it really came back and bit us in the butt.”
The Mustangs return to action Monday night in Ogden as they begin a nine-day, seven-game road trip.
“This upcoming road trip could make or break our season,” said DeShields. “This road trip is the most pivotal point in the season for us and we need to play well.”
NOTES: The Mustangs’ Billy Hamilton went 0 for 4 and had his eight-game hitting streak snapped. It was also the first time in 20 games that he didn’t reach base. … The Mustangs are off today before playing seven games over the next nine days in the state of Utah. … Duran’s home run landed in nearly the exact same spot as his eighth-inning blast on Friday night, while Lutz’s shot ricocheted of the First Interstate sign on the Dehler Park scoreboard. … Outfielder Yorman Rodriguez, who has missed the last few weeks due to injury, could be cleared to play as early as Monday. … Billings’ next home game is August 24.