By nature, the men who play for the Salt Lake Trappers are not quitters. They get passed over by big-league organizations. Or they get cut by them and go looking for more baseball work and end up with the independent Trappers.
Saturday night in their 1991 home season opener, before 9,615, the largest opening-night crowd in the Trappers' seven seasons, the 1-4 Salt Lakers went into the eighth inning against Southern-Division leader Idaho Falls with just three singles to their name and down two runs to none. This from a team that was averaging .338, second-best in the Pioneer League behind Butte."I really wasn't worried," said relief pitcher John Gilligan, who'd come on for starter Willie Ambos in the seventh. "That's the way we started the first five games."
"I knew if I could keep us in the ballgame these guys were going to erupt," said Ambos, whose six innings were filled with nine strikeouts, a career high for the fourth-year pitcher who was removed so he didn't get overly tired so early in the season.
Their confidence was well rewarded.
After a bunt single started them off in the eighth inning, shortstop Todd Stefan, the No. 8 man in the batting order, tripled to right after one run was in on a sacrifice fly. Stefan's hit scored two runners, and he scored on Brian Biggers' liner up the middle, and the Trappers went on to a 4-2 victory.
The 2-4 Trappers and 4-2 Braves play again in Derks Field this afternoon at 1:30.
Todd Edwards, who led off the eventful eighth, was aware that the Braves had switched a first baseman, Loren Gress, to third base for the game, so he tested him with a bunt that became a single.
"I told Todd get on any way you can," said Trapper Manager Nick Belmonte. "We haven't had reason to bunt with all the hits we've had. It was a heads-up play by him."
Keith Rader snapped a hit between first and second, and Eric Macrina was hit by a pitch.
The Braves squiggled out of some trouble, or so it seemed, when David Rolls forced Edwards at home and Jeff Cooper's sacrifice fly was the second out. Idaho Falls was up 2-1 with two away.
Then came Stefan.
"They were pitching me outside all night, and I went with it," he said. "At their field (the first games of the season) they struck me out, and I kinda had a feeling they'd pitch me up and away.
"I've hit that way all my life. When I pull the ball I get into trouble," he said.
"He's been getting big hits the first five nights," said Belmonte.
With his two RBI, Stefan, despite being next-to-last in the order, tied with teammate Rick Hertensteiner for the league lead with 10 each.
Ambos gave up a game-opening single to center to the Braves' Johnny Walker, who became the first run after a throwing error, bunt and single by Kevin Grijak.
The Braves' leadoff man scored in the fourth, too. This time it was Grijak, who'd singled and stolen second, then ridden Gress's double home. Ambos, however, struck out the side in that inning.
The Trapper pitchers combined, in fact, for 15 strikeouts.
"The ump did a nice job. If I get some calls here and there . . . " said Ambos, who considered another career-first, a pitcher-to-catcher-to-first baseman double play, to be the saving grace of the game for him in the fifth with bases loaded and one out.
"I was hitting my spots," said Gilligan of his strikeouts, calling his curve his best pitch. "It had a good break on it and caught people fishing," he said.
Gilligan had been the only successful Trapper pitcher in Friday's 16-13 loss at Butte, pitching 11/3 innings, striking out one and giving up a hit and no runs. Saturday in three innings, he gave up two hits, no runs and struck six.
"This is the guy that shut us down last year (when he was) at Medicine Hat; we knew that from experience," said Belmonte, claiming that's the reason Gilligan's a Trapper now.
TRAPPER NOTES - They have released infielder Dan Ferreira and pitchers Joe Guthrie and Gary Harris and added infielder Eddie Ortega of Miami, who was released this spring by the Spartanburg Phillies.