It was no big deal, really. It may be the last month of the season and it may be the two contenders for the Pioneer League Southern Division title, and it may be Salt Lake's chance to get a cushion the Trappers need desperately. But really, don't get excited.
There's too far left to go, says Salt Lake Trappers manager Barry Moss.The Trappers and the Butte Copper Kings are treating this week's pivotal series like a case of bad breath. Everyone knows it's there, but nobody's saying anything.
Monday night at Derks Field the Trappers staged a dramatic eighth-inning comeback to edge Butte 6-5. The win moved their division lead to three games over the Copper Kings. "We're not counting wins at this point," said Trappers manager Barry Moss. "We just try to play every inning the best we can."
For one inning of Monday's contest, that wasn't saying much. The Trappers had built a 3-0 lead on the Kings and appeared on their way to their fourth consecutive victory. But Butte came back to take a 4-3 lead, thanks to two Salt Lake errors. Butte's Rod Morris stole third base and when Trapper catcher Tim McKercher threw the ball back to the pitcher, he threw it wild, allowing Morris to score. Kings' catcher Bill Losa singled in another run and a third crossed the plate on the same play when Salt Lake right fielder Rick Hurni misplayed the single. Then Butte shortstop Chris Colon singled in the go-ahead run.
In the seventh the Copper Kings took a 5-3 lead on Trey McCoy's RBI single.
"Actually, it was a well-played game until that bad inning," said Moss.
Salt Lake stole away with the win in the bottom of the eighth. Hurni led off with a double to left and scored on McKercher's single. He went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a passed ball. Outfielder Jeff Allison, who reached first base on a walk and stole second, came home on a wild pitch by reliever Tim MacNiel, giving the Trappers a 6-5 lead.
In the ninth Salt Lake reliever Lee Carballo gave up a one-out infield single and was lifted in favor of sidearm pitcher Michael Gibbons. He forced a fly-out and struck out McCoy to end the game.
"What can't be overlooked is our relief pitching," said Moss.
However important the win, the Trappers remained cautious about the victory. With road swings to Butte, Billings and Great Falls left - among other games - they don't exactly have a scheduling advantage. Butte still has a series of games to play with the league's weakest team, Medicine Hat, giving the Kings a chance to make up ground fast.
Still, the Kings were taking no solace. "We thought we should have won, and it got away," said Butte manager Bump Wills. "I told the kids that's baseball and that's life. We've got three more to go and we'll take them one at a time."
The teams continue the series at Derks Field Tuesday at 7 p.m. The four-game stand ends Thursday.
While both teams were staying away from any inflammatory statements about the importance of this series, neither was pretending to be taking it lightly, either. "We're not thinking ahead this early," said Moss. "If we were in the last week of the season, it might be a different situation. But it would be a mistake to start thinking about building up much of a lead this early."