The only difference for the Idaho Falls Chukars on Thursday night was the wind howling out to left center field.
The Chukars, who were eliminated from the Pioneer League playoffs four days ago, played their second-to-last game of the season Thursday against the Ogden Raptors at Melaleuca Field. While the outcome was meaningless, Idaho Falls’ players and coaches said they treated the game like any other. They wouldn’t want to take a game lightly no matter how unimportant it was.
The final outcome — a 9-4 Chukars victory — illustrated their business-like approach.
“That’s being a professional,” Idaho Falls manager Omar Ramirez said.
The Chukars’ offense put up five runs in the first inning, all with two outs.
Pioneer League MVP Ryan O’Hearn started the rally with a walk. Robert Pehl followed with a single, then O’Hearn and Pehl moved up a base on a wild pitch before scoring on Samir Duenez’s single. Brawlun Gomez followed with another single, and Mike Hill made the score 4-0 with a triple to right center. Pedro Gonzalez completed the scoring with a bloop double to right.
The Chukars added on in the third when Duenez, who hit a leadoff triple, scored on a passed ball.
The Raptors got on the board in the fourth thanks to some sloppy Chukars fielding. Cody Bellinger tripled to left on a wind-aided fly ball to lead off the inning. He came around to score two at-bats later when Idaho Falls’ shortstop Marten Gasparini made a fielding error and throwing error on the same play. Andrew Godbold hit a ground ball up the middle, but Gasparini bobbled it. His desperation throw to first sailed to the right of O’Hearn at first. The Raptors scored another run that inning on a fielder’s choice.
Neither team hit a home run despite the strong, persistent wind to left. Duenez and Bellinger both hit triples on fly balls that looked routine off the crack of the bat, but no one else appeared to gain an advantage from the wind. Hill was the only player who came close to a home run when he doubled off the top of the right-field wall in the fifth.
“Before the game, we were joking, ‘Just get the ball in the air,’ ” Hill said.
The Chukars showed hustle throughout. Two Idaho Falls players legged out triples, and multiple baserunners took risks advancing bases.
At the very least, players had incentive to perform well solely from an individual perspective. Chukars starting pitcher Zach Lovvorn said he wanted to finish the season strong. Hill said he wants to take quality at-bats regardless of the situation. He had plenty of external reasons to perform well, too.
“There are still scouts coming to watch you play,” Ramirez said. “We tell (the players), ‘Play hard because you don’t know who’s watching.’ ”