The ball didn’t come off the bat particularly hard, so Tyler Van Marter charged in from shortstop, reaching down with his glove to stop the roller. The play didn’t look impossible. Then it turned into a disaster.
The ball slid under Van Marter’s glove and into the outfield, and with it went Idaho Falls’ comeback chances in a 14-10 loss to Ogden Monday night, a two-run error that pushed the Raptors’ lead from five to seven in the eighth.
The Chukars, who pride themselves on their scintillating offense, saw their chances go from solid to bleak in a matter of seconds. They tried their best to make up the ground in the ninth, scoring five in a valiant effort, but the game was too far out of reach.
“That shows we didn’t quit,” Chukars manager Billy Gardner Jr. said. “We were one hit away from bringing the tying run to the plate. That’s what these guys have always done. They always play to the last out.”
Under normal circumstances, the loss wouldn’t have meant a great deal for Idaho Falls (47-22, 13-8), but the team’s lead in the Northern Division is slipping. The Chukars now trail Billings by two games, which is bad news for Idaho Falls because the club needs to outpace Billings to strengthen its chances to make the league playoffs.
Instead, the Chukars floundered in a four-hour, 15-minute marathon. They plated five in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough because their pitching struggled in similar ways, allowing five runs in the first and third innings apiece.
Starter Alex Leija, making his first appearance in the maroon and white laundry since signing with the squad on Thursday, endured a nightmarish first inning. His final line looked like this: 2 1/3 innings, 8 runs, 8 hits, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts. Jake Waters and Alex Fishberg permitted a run each in relief, but Nate Jenkins was shelled for three in the eighth, which is when Ogden broke the game open.
The loss snaps a four-game winning streak for the Chukars, who got two hits apiece from Steve Barmakian, Webb Little and Andrew Don and three from right fielder Kona Quiggle, who scored on an RBI single from Van Marter in the ninth. The Chukars provided some pop, the way they almost always do. It just came too late.
“We definitely were flat in the middle innings,” said outfielder Matt Feinstein, whose team went scoreless from the third to eighth innings. “Even though we still had already clinched this series against them, coming out with five, showing a little fight at the end, that’s definitely good momentum. I think guys are in higher spirits than if we had just gone 1-2-3 to end that inning.”
Idaho Falls won’t have to wait long to test the theory. The Chukars get Tuesday off before they set off for Boise, where they will play the Hawks in a six-game road series.
Those games will be important, but they will also be interesting, mostly because Idaho Falls and Boise just played six games last week. The Chukars say they’re more familiar with the Hawks, but they will also be healthier: Tyler Kelly is back from a hand injury, and Webb Little — who fouled a pitch off himself and missed several games to begin the series — has also returned to the lineup.
Whether those returns will make a difference for the Chukars against an improved Hawks club remains to be seen.
“Everyone knows,” Feinstein said, “that once we get both our Tylers back up the middle, shift Steve over to third, our defense is really solid, our lineup 1-9. Then any guy on the bench can get off and get a big hit. We saw that tonight.”