The prospect was there for the Billings Mustangs to finish off a great homestand Sunday afternoon.
Instead, a 3-0 loss to the Orem Owlz at Dehler Park ensured the seven-game stretch would be downgraded to good, even though the Mustangs got another strong pitching performance from the three players who took the mound.
Orem’s staff was even better, limiting the Mustangs to three hits and only four baserunners total. And though the Mustangs lost two other games on the homestand, this was about the only game of the three where the Mustangs didn’t seem to have a chance.
Even manager Dick Schofield could sense that.
“It was just one of those days,” he said. “It was just a very sluggish feeling. There was no energy whatsoever. I’m just glad it’s over.”
Hopefully, what’s not over for the Mustangs is the recent surge of the pitching staff. Orem had just five hits on Sunday, and by taking two of three games with the Owlz, Mustangs pitchers conceded just 12 hits in all. For the month of August, Mustangs pitchers have thrown to a 2.83 ERA.
That tops the Pioneer League. Now, if the hitters, who are batting just .208 during the month, can catch up.
The Mustangs ended Sunday with at least a two-game lead in the North division. Fifteen of their final 23 games are on the road, so if the Mustangs want to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008, they’ll really have to earn it.
“We’re definitely trying to win this half so we can go to the playoffs and hopefully get a ring,” said infielder Cory Thompson, who had one of the Mustangs’ three hits. “Right now, everybody’s bodies are getting pretty tired, so we’re just going to have to battle.”
KEY MOMENT: The Mustangs just didn’t have many chances. Perhaps the team’s energy level might have been raised had they cashed in on Jimmy Pickens’s one-out triple in the bottom of the first. Instead, he was left stranded there, and the only other runner the Mustangs had in scoring position came in the sixth, when Thompson was also stranded at third.
ON THE MOUND: Orem starter Alex Klonowski (1-1) struck out seven in five innings and Eduardo Paredes struck out the side in the ninth for his third save. Owlz pitchers struck out 13 and walked just one in handing the Mustangs their third shutout of the season.
“We just swung at everything,” Schofield said, adding the Owlz pitched very well. “You swing at balls and take strikes, it’s not a good combination.”
AT THE PLATE: Orem’s Fran Whitten hit a two-run homer in the first and Raul Linares a solo shot in the third. Both came off Mustangs starter Luke Moran (3-5), who otherwise was pretty solid. He retired the last eight batters he faced, and relievers Jacob Moody and Jefry Sierra allowed just two hits over the final four.
“Our pitching has been outstanding,’ Schofield said. “The pitching has given us a chance this second half.”
UP NEXT: Monday is an off day. The Mustangs depart Billings for the 12- or 13-hour bus ride to Grand Junction, Colo., where they’ll start a three-game series with the Rockies. This time Grand Junction will be without reigning National League batting champ Michael Cuddyer, who ended his five-game injury rehabilitation stint in the Pioneer League on Sunday in Great Falls.