Even though the first-place Salt Lake Trappers have won 14 of their last 19 ballgames, the streak will be on the other foot tonight.
Nipping at the Trappers' heels are the once-lowly Idaho Falls Braves, who won their sixth straight game Thursday, 5-3, against Salt Lake in Derks Field.Pitcher Scott Ryder picked up his fifth straight win and took the league lead with six, and reliever Steve Hodges threw 3 1/3 innings of one-hit ball.
That victory moved the Braves within a half-game of the Trappers. A seventh straight win tonight would put Idaho Falls in first in the Pioneer South.
"The atmosphere is tremendous," said Braves' Manager Steve Curry describing the feeling on a club that has seen its pitching solidify, its hitting become more disciplined and its fielders make fundamental plays.
"It's quite fun coming to the ballpark," said Hodges. Fans have been telling the Braves they're the first Idaho Falls team above .500 this late in the season since 1986.
Hodges says Idaho Falls got on its winning kick by losing two one-run games to once-first-place Butte a week ago. "The games we did lose there, we were so close to first we thought we could be up there,too," Hodges said.
The feeling's stronger now. "We wanted it pretty bad," Hodges said of Thursday's win over a team that disposed of Butte 14-1 the night before.
"One thing we have to establish is consistency, more at home (than away). We can't just be a roller coaster," said Trapper shortstop John Urcioli, who broke a slump by getting three of his team's five hits Thursday.
"I've got a feeling we'll be all right," Urcioli said.
One of his reasons is that Willie Ambos is to return from the infirmary to start tonight. He's 4-1 with a 2.97 earned-run average.
Thursday's Trapper starter, Gene Mirabella, added 10 strikeouts to his league-leading total, now 54, but the Braves got to him for three runs on three hits in the first inning, one on two hits in the second and one on one hit in the third.
"I don't think I threw enough in the bullpen," he said. "I got the fastball up early - there's such a thing as being wild in the strike zone - but once I got loose, I kept it down."
Ten strikeouts in seven innings "helps a little, but I'd rather have no strikeouts and win," said Mirabella, now 4-4.
Idaho Falls struck out 12 times, the Trappers 11.
Chris Burton opened the game with a hit, and John Surane walked. Rick Karcher drove in Burton with a single, and Loren Gress had a two-run single but became the first inning's third out when he tried to steal. Marek Drabinski singled and scored on Jim Pullins' triple in the second, and a walk, single and sacrifice fly completed Idaho Falls' scoring in the third.
A hit batsman, singles by Steve Keighley and Urcioli and Jim Doyle's groundout gave the Trappers two runs in the fifth, and Tom Duffin scored their third run in the sixth after doubling. A wild pitch put him on third, and an error sent him home. Hodges relieved Ryder and got out of the inning with one pitch, which broke the bat as Urcioli lined out to short. "I jammed him," Hodges said.
Urcioli got him back later with a solid single. "Our pitching coach was telling me he hits fastballs, and for some reason I throw a fastball on the first pitch," said Hodges.