LaTroy Hawkins was three outs away from pitching his second shutout of the year and notching his team-best fourth complete game Thursday night when he was taken out of the contest prior to the ninth inning.
The 22-year-old Salt Lake Buzz righthander didn't leave kicking and screaming, however. In fact, Hawkins felt hurling eight shutout innings was plenty, if not too much."I sure didn't (want to finish the game)," said Hawkins after Salt Lake's 4-0 victory over Calgary. "I threw 122 pitches. The last time I threw that many I couldn't sleep my arm was so sore."
While Hawkins may have had a tough time sleeping Thursday night, Buzz manager Phil Roof was resting a little easier. Salt Lake's win over Calgary combined with the loss of second place Edmonton to Tucson cut the Buzz's magic number to clinch the PCL's second half Northern Division crown to five. With 10 regular season games remaining, any combination of five Buzz wins and Edmonton losses will ensure Salt Lake the title.
In other words, the second-half division championship is now a virtual lock for the Buzz. It would take a monumental collapse to lose the lead now. Salt Lake is 36-25, seven full games ahead of second-place Edmonton (29-32). Even if the Buzz lost all 10 of their remaining games - which isn't likely since they've won 15 of their last 19 - the Trappers would have to go 7-3 just to tie.
"We're getting closer (to clinching the title), and the guys sense it," Roof said. "They realize we're penciled in to win this second half."
Calgary, the best hitting team in the PCL, threatened to score on several occasions, but Hawkins and the Buzz defense came up big each time.
The Cannons had the bases loaded in the first, but Micah Franklin hit into an inning-ending double play. Calgary had base runners in scoring position in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings but didn't come through.
"Hawk has a uniqueness about him in that he'll get hit around a little bit, but when he has to make a good pitch, he'll make the pitch," Roof said.
Hawkins, the two-time defending Minor League Pitcher of the Year in the Minnesota Twins organization, improved to 8-6 on the year. His ERA fell to 3.71, which will rank him in the top 10 in the league.
Riccardo Ingram's sacrifice fly to right scored Mitch Simons in the first to give the Buzz all the run production they would need. Salt Lake added two more runs in the third on a two-out, two-run single by first baseman Steve Dunn. Steve Hazlett, who was 3-for-3 with a double and a walk, drove in the final run with a single in the seventh.
"We didn't score too many runs tonight, but we didn't need to," Roof said.
Buzz reliever Sean Gavaghan pitched a scoreless ninth inning to complete the shutout.
The Buzz and Cannons will be back in action tonight. RHP Marc Barcelo (8-10, 6.53 ERA) will be on the mound for the Buzz against RHP Rick White (5-3, 4.40).
BUZZ BRIEFS: The game was a sellout (15,500) Thursday to bring the season attendance total to 588,640. Thursday's crowd was particularly impressive because it was televised locally . . . There are still tickets available for the final three games of the regular season. Tonight and Saturday the games are expected to be sellouts, however . . . Third baseman Tom Quinlan was twice hit by pitches Thursday. He has now been beaned 15 times this season, breaking the Buzz mark of 14 set last season by Tim McIntosh . . . LHP Rich Robertson, who is 5-0 with a 2.75 ERA since being sent down by the parent Minnesota Twins, was originally scheduled to start for the Buzz Thursday but was a scratch due to a strain in his groin. Robertson is now scheduled to make his next start in Sunday's series finale against the Cannons . . . The Buzz have an outside chance of clinching the second-half division title during their present homestand - with eight games left in the regular season. In order to do so, however, the Buzz would need to win the three remaining games against Calgary and then have some help. Tucson would have to down Edmonton at least two of three times and Vancouver and Tacoma would need to split the games in their series . . . The best-of-5 Northern Division playoffs will begin Sept. 6 in Vancouver since the Canadians won the first-half division title. Assuming the Buzz don't falter, Game 3 will be in Salt Lake Sept. 8 with the fourth and fifth games also at Franklin Quest Field, if necessary.