Franklin Quest Field isn't even a half-season old, but after 30 Salt Lake Buzz games it's safe to say the ballpark is hitter friendly. Entering Tuesday night's game with the PCL Northern Division-leading Vancouver Canadians, Buzz home games had averaged a combined 12.1 runs.
Tuesday night proved to be less than average. Unless, of course, you enjoy a game with outstanding pitching.The Canadians cooled off the hot bats of the Buzz to win 2-1 in front of 8,716 fans. It was the fewest runs ever scored in a PCL game at Franklin Quest. The previous low was six in a 5-1 Salt Lake victory over Phoenix May 7.
"That was a classic example of how good pitching will beat good hitting every time," Buzz manager Scott Ullger said.
"It was an outstanding pitching performance by both sides," said Vancouver manager Don Long.
The city of Vancouver may be in mourning as its beloved Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, but its baseball team took a huge step in winning the first-half PCL division title Tuesday. Vancouver now leads the second-place Buzz by 21/2 games with six remaining. Salt Lake can cut the margin by two games if it can win the final two games of the series tonight and Thursday.
The Buzz have been punishing pitchers of late - averaging 10.67 runs per game in their previous six - but the trio of Mark Ratekin, Erik Bennett and Troy Percival shut Salt Lake down. The Buzz managed just six total hits, five off the starter, Ratekin, who pitched 52/3 innings to earn the victory. Only outfielder Dan Masteller, who entered the game nothing-for-June from the plate (0-for-12 in limited action), had much success. Masteller hit a solo homer in the fourth inning and also had a double.
Meanwhile, Buzz lefty Eddie Guardado (7-6) pitched well in 61/3 innings, but his winning streak was snapped at four as he was saddled with the hard-luck loss. Vancouver's Orlando Palmeiro, the brother of Orioles' star Raphael Palmeiro, was Guardado's undoing. Palmeiro had an RBI single in the second and drove in a run with a two-out triple in the fourth.
For the second night in a row the Buzz also had fine relief pitching. Bill Wissler and Scott Watkins, who entered the game with unimpressive 6.27 and 7.97 ERAs, respectively, combined for 22/3 innings of shutout relief.
"If we get pitching like that in the second half, we'll win a lot of ball games," said Ullger.
"That's the way I'd like to think those guys are capable of pitching all the time," Buzz pitching coach Gorman Heimuller said of Wissler and Watkins' performances. "Maybe with this they'll turn the corner."
While the win goes a long way toward Vancouver winning the first-half title, their not about to count their chickens just yet. "We don't figure out the math of it until we're two games ahead with one to go," Long said.
Salt Lake has a scheduling advantage, as all six remaining first-half Buzz games will be a Frankin Quest, while the Canadians will be on the road - first with two against the Buzz and then a four-game set against Calgary. The first-half winner automatically qualifies for the playoffs, where it will meet the second-half champion. Last season the Portland Beavers, the team that became the Buzz, won both halves to avoid a first-round playoff, instead advancing directly to the PCL championship series against Tucson.
Tonight RHP Oscar Munoz (4-5, 4.54 ERA) will face LHP Mark Holzemer (2-3, 5.81).
BUZZ BRIEFS - Catcher Tim McIntosh is still the second leading hitter in the PCL even if he has just the third best average on the team. McIntosh is hitting .379, while first baseman Steve Dunn and outfielder Marty Cordova have .400 and .390 averages respectively. Dunn, who spent a month in the majors, and Cordova, who was on the disabled list for the first 32 games of the year, don't have enough plate appearances to qualify for the league lead . . . Cordova was named the PCL batter of the week for hitting .484 with a homer and four RBI last week. . . "Sport," a new traveling mascot, entertained the crowd Tuesday. If fans thought he looked and acted like the old Phillie Fanatic, it was no coincidence. The man inside Sport was the Fanatic prior to changing his look a bit and taking the act on the road. . . For the second game in a row two scouts from the Japansese league Yakult Swallows attended the game. While the tight-lipped scouts won't say specifically who they are scouting, Buzz slugger Bernardo Brito is an obvious possibility.