Billings Mustangs manager Dick Schofield stood outside his team’s Dehler Park clubhouse, extending congratulatory greetings to his players one by one as they arrived.
Saturday night’s 4-3, 10-inning Pioneer League win over the Orem Owlz was that kind of win for the Mustangs.
“That was a great team win,” Schofield said later, back in his manager’s office. “They played hard, and that’s all we ask of them.”
That’s definitely what the Mustangs coaching staff got. The deck seemed stacked against them all night:
• Starting catcher Shed Long and Schofield were ejected in the sixth inning by home plate umpire Jesse Orozco. Long was sent packing for apparently saying something to Orozco (Schofield said Long’s version was the catcher was talking at his pitcher), while Schofield was ejected for defending his catcher.
• The ejection cost the Mustangs their DH slot, since Garrett Boulware, the designated hitter and only other healthy catcher at the moment, had to take over for Long. Baseball rules state that a team loses its DH slot once that player plays a position.
• That meant a series of pinch-hit moves and double-switches by acting manager and pitching coach Derrin Ebert. It also meant that at one point reliever Jeremy Kivel was one out from having to take an at-bat.
• And, let’s not forget that the Mustangs were no-hit for the first 6 2/3 innings, before Argenis Aldazoro’s three-run blast wiped out the no-no, the shutout and the deficit all in one swing.
Yes, it was that kind of win.
“There were a lot of things that went into that,” said Mustangs outfielder Jimmy Pickens, who was inserted in the 10th inning as part of a double switch, then hit a grounder through the legs of Orem first baseman Fran Whitten that scored Aldazoro from second on a walk-off error.
“A lot of things went down with the coaching and I think they did a good job of keeping everyone relaxed and put the right people in the right spots. Somehow it worked out. That’s just how baseball is.”
KEY MOMENT: Take your pick, but Aldazoro’s home run couldn’t have been more timely. Aristides Aquino and Brian O’Grady both worked a walk off Owlz reliever Chris Ellis before Aldazoro pulled a two-out, 0-2 pitch over the right-field fence for his sixth, seventh and eighth RBIs in the last three games.
“One swing by Aldazoro changes the whole momentum,” Pickens said. “The fans start to get back in it and we’re all pumped up.”
ON THE MOUND: The near-no hitter thrown by Orem pitchers overshadowed another strong Mustangs effort. Four pitchers limited the Owlz to five hits, with starter Tyler Mahle throwing a strong first six innings. Scott Brattvet got himself out of a self-inflicted jam in the ninth, and Soid Marquez threw an easy 10th inning to improve to 6-1.
AT THE PLATE: The Mustangs collected just four hits overall, all by Aldazoro and Alberti Chavez, who had two each. Both had hits in the seventh and 10th innings.
“We don’t get a lot of hits, but we score runs,” said Schofield, whose team is last in the league in batting (.255) but fourth in runs scored. “The name of the game is score more runs than the other team. Somehow, we do it. I’m not sure how, but we get it done.”
ON DECK: The Mustangs wrap up their seven-game homestand with a 2:05 p.m. Sunday start against the Owlz.