A month ago, Trapper Manager Nick Belmonte was wondering why his team had no killer instinct, why it didn't take advantage of its breaks.
There was none of that over the weekend. The Trappers took everything that wasn't nailed down in sweeping two from their closest rival in the pennant race, the Idaho Falls Braves. Salt Lake's first six runs were unearned but came in on timely hits that consistently found the gaps."They didn't let us off the hook," said Braves' Manager Steve Curry.
Salt Lake made it a 10-2 win Sunday afternoon at Derks Field. That came on the heels of a 14-4 victory Saturday.
And that put the Trappers in good shape at 39-25. Idaho Falls is two back at 37-27, and Butte is 34-26.
The second inning was critical. The Braves led off with Loren Gress's double and a bunt single from Geoff Orr to put Gress at third. Brian Biggers, however, started a double play, and Willie Ambos struck out Michael Sweeney to get out of the inning with one run.
"Bases (almost) loaded, nobody out. They score one run, but momentum's in our dugout," said Ambos. "The defense bailed me out big-time. Two double plays (another in the fifth) and that's it."
In the Trapper second, Tom Duffin reached on a dropped throw to first, Wayne Stofsky singled, and, with two out, John Urcioli singled to right. Outfielder Sweeney let the ball go under him, and it rolled to the wall. Sweeney had been playing shallow, and Urcioli raced home while Sweeney chased the ball on a three-base, two-run error."The first error hurt real bad, especially when you start out with men on first andthird and score one," said Curry. "That sets you back."
Idaho Falls got one in the fifth with three straight singles and that second double play, but again it left a man at third. Salt Lake, up 6-2 from a three-run fourth, got two more in the fifth to make it sting just a little more.
Ambos threw his third complete game and lowered his earned-run average to 2.58, striking out six, walking one but giving up nine hits.
"This is the biggest pressure game I've played," said Ambos, who pitched for the Trappers two years ago and played Class A ball at San Bernardino, Calif., last year. "If we win, we're in the driver's seat."
"Willie was ready to go. I could see it," said Belmonte, noting the matchup of Trapper ace against Brave ace - league win leader Scott Ryder.
Ambos, who badly wants a pro championship ring, had more incentive than a race and expected pitching duel. Saturday night, Idaho Falls' general manager was sitting in Box 1 at Derks asking someone how old Ambos was. "Thirty-four?" he said. Ambos, sitting right behind him charting pitches, took offense. "I thought about that all night," Ambos said.
Another important factor for the Trappers was that their No. 6, 7 and 8 hitters did the job.
Stofsky, No. 6 in the order, had a single and two doubles and caused a two-base throwing error on a bunt. He scored all four times. "I like crossing the plate," he said. His favorite was his second double, which came on the pitch after the Braves' Bill Kooiman threw one "at my face," said Stofsky, calling it unintentional. "You can't get too emotional. That's what the pitcher wants," he said. He doubled to the left-center gap on the next pitch.
Steve Keighley, No. 7 in the order, delivered a two-run single in the fifth, and Urcioli, No. 8, had two hits and two RBI for six RBI in the two games.
Because of late rainouts that won't be made up, by ruling of the league president, the Pioneer League Southern Division will be decided on percentage points.
The Trappers will play 68 games. Idaho Falls is to play all 70 but must make up a rainout and complete a suspended game in addition to its regular schedule in this, the last week of the season. Butte was to play 67 games but was rained out of the second half of its doubleheader with Gate City Sunday after losing the first game.
The Trappers and Braves play at Idaho Falls tonight and Tuesday, and Salt Lake ends the regular season at home against 13-52 Gate City Wednesday and Thursday. Idaho Falls is behind 6-1 in its suspended game with Billings but has bases loaded. That game will be played at Helena Thursday morning after the Braves play two at Butte Wednesday.
The best-of-five playoff between North champion Great Falls and the Southern champ is to begin Saturday in the southern city, although Great Falls has the final three games, if needed, at home.