Two years ago at this time, Trapper management was talking about getting into "Kolovitz Territory," the late innings, where short reliever Mike Kolovitz could almost always be counted on to close the door and lock it. He became the club's all-time Save King.
Now, Manager Barry Moss talks about getting to "Johnson Territory," the middle innings, where Nevada-Las Vegas product Sean Johnson lurks with his left arm in readiness.Tuesday, as the club's seven-game homestand came to a close, starter Blaine Reber got the Traps into the sixth inning with a 3-1 lead, and Johnson, with an inning at the end from Michael Gibbons, did the job again.
Salt Lake defeated the Helena Brewers 6-1, running its homestand record to 6-1 and the long-haul mark to 16-2 since the major-league all-star break.
Johnson came on with bases loaded and one out and threw a strikeout, then a groundout to preserve the two-run lead. The Traps gave him three more runs to work with in the bottom of the sixth, and he gave them two more innings that included nothing more frightening than a walk and infield single back to back.
"I really wanted that first hitter, to strike him out," said Johnson, explaining the strikeout eliminated a need for a double play on a grounder.
Johnson says he enjoys those big-out situations and is used to them because he was a short reliever in college. "I usually came in in the eighth or ninth with bases loaded," he says.
This new middle-relief stuff is even more fun. "I get the best of both worlds," he says, noting that when he gets out of a jam, "I go out and start my own inning after that."
"This is the guy I was mad at for a while," smiles Moss when reminded of Johnson's troubles the first weeks of the season.
"He's come in more aggressively, and his location is better. I credit (pitching coach) Darren Garrick. He's got him concentrating on location more than velocity."
And Moss is using him more frequently - Johnson pitched three innings Sunday, one Saturday, two Thursday, 2 2/3 on July 18, 1 1/3 on July 16, three on July 14, 2/3 on July 13, two on July 11. "Johnson is becoming a very valuable pitcher to this team," says Moss.
Reber, who picked up his third win, was tagged for a run by Helena leadoff batter Bert Heffernan, who walked, was sacrificed to second, wild-pitched to third and sacrificed home. But it was the only run Helena would get.
Moss said a pre-game celebrity softball game until half an hour before game time made it hard for the baseball teams to be ready. "We were flat in the beginning. We had to turn that around."
Reber gave up a pair of singles in the second but struck out the side, and Heffernan's single in the third gave the Brewer catcher an 11th straight time on base in the series. The Traps finally got him out in the fifth on a grounder.
The Trappers struck back to tie 1-1 in the second, thanks to a Kerry Shaw single, wild pitch and four walks. Tommy Boyce scored the game-winner in the fourth, walking, taking third on a Chris Sloniger single and coming home on a sacrifice fly. Sloniger later also scored on a sac fly for a 3-1 lead.
In the sixth, a Pat Waid single was followed by walks to Kelly Zane and Marty Peralta. Waid scored on a wild pitch, and Greg Ehmig lashed a two-run single.
It was then that Johnson had his one poor moment, walking the left-handed Heffernan - "the cardinal sin for left-handers," Johnson said - and letting Don Meyett get an infield single. Johnson said Meyett's done that to him three times. "I hate him - he's good," he said.
Three Trappers - Zane, Shaw and Mando Verdugo - and Brewer Joe Roebuck had two hits each. Zane had the night's only extra-base hit, a double.
TRAPPER NOTES - Tuesday's attendance of 3,495 put the club over the 100,000 mark for the season . . . Van Schley has signed new shortstop Kevin Ohama from Sacramento State to fill in for Ray Karczewski, who's probably out for the season with a broken jaw. Ohama was the first man on Schley's list of possible replacements. Schley says he's a good offensive player who runs bases well. He'll join the team Thursday in Idaho Falls . . . The Traps are at Idaho Falls for three and Pocatello for two, then return home Monday to face Butte.