When Grant Brittain's sharp single dove underneath Joe Beaulac's glove at first base for a hit and run driven in the seventh inning Friday night, the Idaho Falls Braves had themselves the makings of a first-place rally.
They left Salt Lake with two wins - Friday's was 12-4, with six runs in the seventh and five in the eighth - and the first late-season division-leader designation since the Braves moved into that town five years ago. The Braves have won seven straight."I think we might have surprised these guys," said Braves' 6-foot-5 catcher Marek Drabinski, who scored twice. "We've got a tight bunch, it's all come together, and we're playing well every night."
"That team is higher than a kite, and deservedly so," said Trapper Manager Nick Belmonte.
"The Idaho Falls pitchers came in and did a job on us," Belmonte said, noting the Trappers had only five hits each game. Thursday's was a 5-3 loss to Idaho Falls.
Together, the losses left the Trappers in second place by half a game to Idaho Falls in the Pioneer South.
They boarded a bus late Friday for a seven-game road trip through the heart of the Pioneer League North Division, to Billings and Helena.
To Belmonte, Brittain's hit that just eluded Beaulac was the big one. "If we can make the play, that's two outs."
Instead, it was still one out with one run in and five to follow, with Drabinsky's two-run double to left the biggest blow.
The Braves batted around again in the eighth for five runs and a 12-1 lead with doubles by Chris Burton and Brittain and a two-run triple from Stuart McMillan.
"It hasn't hit me yet," said Drabinsky. "We came in on a roll, and our pitching was fantastic."
Drabinsky said the IF Braves have never won seven in a row before and never been in first place so late in the season.
"We came in knowing we were playing well and they (Trappers) were hurting in pitching," Drabinsky said.
Willie Ambos, Salt Lake's No. 1 starter, had been out two weeks with an elbow problem. He started Friday's game nad gave up only an unearned run but had men in scoring position the first three innings before the Braves finally crossed the plate in the fourth, thanks to an error, bunt single and sacrifice.
Belmonte revealed after the game that the Traps are now hurting for hitting because .375 hitter Rob Bargas and first baseman/DH Butch Harris stayed home Friday with illness. They were to make the bus trip, meaning they could make other players ill in the next few days, Belmonte said.
Because Bargas was out, Belmonte said, it changed the way Idaho Falls pitchers could approach the Trapper lineup. With Bargas in the lineup, "They have to pitch to certain guys certain ways."
Belmonte was wary of pessimism, knowing his club can hit well enought to score 18 and 14 runs, as it did earlier in the week, but he said of the hitting, "It's getting to the point where it will be a concern if it keeps up, but knowing (player personnel boss) Van (Schley), if there's a need to get more bats on this ballclub, we'll go out and get some."
The Trappers scored their runs in the sixth (one, with the help of a two-base throwing error), eighth (one, on a single, error and two groundouts) and ninth (two, on a walk, hit batsman, single and bases-loaded walk).