The Salt Lake Buzz began their first-half stretch drive with a solid 8-4 victory over Northern Division leader Vancouver Monday night, cutting the Canadians' lead on them to 11/2 games with seven games remaining in the season's first half.
The win kicked off an eight-game Buzz homestand after a 6-2 mark in an eight-game road swing.Matt Stevens came on in relief of starter Greg Brummett to toss 31/3 innings of shutout relief to lead the Buzz to the win.
"That's the Matt Stevens we saw last year," said Buzz manager Scott Ullger of his reliever's one-hit performance. "What you saw tonight is the Matt Stevens of old."
The Canadians drew first blood in the third inning when shortstop Brian Grebeck led off with a single. He advanced to second on a bunt single by center fielder Orlando Palmeiro and later scored on an infield groundout.
"It started out looking like it was going to be a pitchers' duel," said Ullger, "and it ended up like a typical PCL game once seven or eight runs were scored."
The Buzz didn't trail for long, scoring two runs in their half of the third. Jeff Carter led off the inning getting hit by an Andrew Lorraine pitch. Jeff Raabe and Rich Becker both flied out, and it appeared the Buzz would come away empty-handed when designated hitter Bernardo Brito got behind in the count at 0-2.
Carter stole second on the next pitch and scored when Brito followed with a double. Tim McIntosh followed up Brito's double with an RBI single of his own, and the Buzz never relinquished the lead from there on.
Brummett retired the side in the fourth inning, and Juan DeLaRosa scored for the Buzz to give Salt Lake a two-run cushion.
Brummett then yielded a solo home run to Grebeck in the fifth. The blast to left field was Grebeck's first long ball of the season.
In the bottom half of the inning, the Buzz pulled away.
Again with two outs, and runners on second and third, DeLaRosa scored Becker with a bunt single - a move he has pulled off more than once during the season. "I thought (the bunt) was probably the biggest play," said Ullger. "And then Hocking . . . an infield single and then Durant, naturally, had the big blow."
The Canadians' Grebeck saved a run by covering Hocking's grounder but leaving the bases loaded. Durant followed with what Ullger had referred to as "the big blow" - a two-RBI double to give the Buzz a 6-2 advantage.
Both teams added two runs in the sixth inning, but once Utah Jazz President Frank Layden had thrilled the 11,717 fans in attendance with his rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch, the contest was all but over.
No one player had a memorable game for the Buzz in the four-run win, except for possibly Stevens in his relief effort.
Ullger stressed the importance of teamwork. "I guess that's why they call it a team," he said. "It's definitely a team sport, not an individual sport. That's what we're trying to stress; that's what we're trying to learn.
"It doesn't come from one person," he added. "23 players, three coaches, one trainer - it's a team."
Ullger said he's not really concerned about the race with the Canadians, which continues tonight with a 7 p.m. contest at Franklin Quest Field. "I'm just concerned about (tonight's) game," said Ullger. "I mean, don't get me wrong - it's exciting to be in a race. That's what baseball's all about."
The Buzz lead the season series with the Canadians 3-2. Eddie Guardado is slated to pitch for the Buzz tonight, while Mark Ratekin will go for the Canadians.