Part of the challenge of baseball development is making sure young players stay within themselves and keep their confidence, especially against big deficits.
The Mustangs trailed Grand Junction by eight runs going into the bottom of seventh inning Thursday night before rallying. And they nearly pulled it off. But for the second straight night, the game ended with men on base, this time in a 10-8 loss at Dehler Park.
The late-inning burst was another example of Billings’ never-quit attitude, a positive trait manager Pat Kelly likes about his club.
“I thought we did a really good job of that on the last road trip, of coming together and rallying late in games to give yourself a chance,” Kelly said. “If you can get that tying or winning run to the plate, you’ve got a chance. When you’re behind by a big deficit you’ve just got to peck away. And I think these guys realize that.”
The Mustangs chipped at the lead with two runs in the seventh, two in the eighth and three in the ninth. Down to their last out, Robert Ramirez came up with the bases loaded. But Ramirez, who hits .154 with runners in scoring position, grounded out.
A night earlier in a 5-4 loss, Carlos Sanchez struck out to end the game with Phil Ervin on third base. The Mustangs were close twice. But not close enough.
The loss was Billings’ fifth in a row at Dehler Park. The Mustangs are now 2-9 at home this season. By virtue of Idaho Falls’ 17-6 win over Helena on Thursday, Billings now has the Pioneer League’s worst record at 11-15.
“I just don’t know. Bad luck, maybe,” explained Mustangs outfielder Gabriel Rosa, who went 2 for 4 with an RBI. “We have been struggling at home. I don’t know what’s going on here at home. We just have to work harder.”
♦ Mustangs starter Pedro Diaz was on the verge of getting out of the first inning unscathed, but Rosa misplayed a fly ball off the bat of Ryan Garvey that landed in left field for a hit. That brought in the first of three two-out runs. Correlle Prime and Emerson Jimenez each followed with RBI singles.
♦ On the reverse side of things, Grand Junction starter Joel Payamps couldn’t be solved. He threw 62/3 innings, allowed six hits and three earned runs, and struck out three with one walk. The Mustangs helped Payamps at times, making a lot of first-pitch outs, many of them on ground balls.
“He was good. He was very aggressive,” Kelly said. “He threw a lot of strikes. Obviously he must have had a little sink to his fastball because he got a lot of ground balls. He got a lot of outs early in the count. He was throwing strikes, we were swinging … he just did a nice job.”
♦ Rockies outfielder Raimel Tapia extended his hitting streak to 18 games with a single against Mustangs reliever Nolan Becker. Tapia flew out in each of his first three at-bats, but slapped a base hit up the middle in the sixth. It was his league-leading 40th hit of the year.
♦ Ervin’s defensive skills have been on display during this homestand. He made a great leaping catch against the wall in right field on Thursday to rob Garvey of extra bases — if not a home run — in the seventh inning. Perhaps it was payback: Ervin blasted a Payamps offering deep into the right-center field gap in the fourth, but Tapia ran it down to steal away what would have probably been a triple.
Kelly said LHP Amir Garrett has been promoted to Single-A Dayton (Ohio) in the Midwest League, as has RHP Joey Housey. Garrett and Housey left for their new team early Friday. Garrett went 1-1 in five starts in Billings. He had 17 strikeouts and 10 walks in 232/3 innings. Housey appeared in eight games as a reliever, and gave up three earned runs in 92/3 innings. This leaves the Mustangs with 15 pitchers. Kelly said he doesn’t yet know if the roster spots will be filled, adding that 15 pitchers “is plenty.”