Three games into the important four-game series between the Salt Lake Trappers and the Butte Copper Kings, things still haven't become totally clear. The Trappers came from behind to win a game Butte should have won on Monday, 6-5. Tuesday Butte thrashed the Trappers 8-2. Wednesday the momentum went back to Salt Lake. Sort of. The Trappers played an errorless game, got fine pitching and good hitting, yet still had to hang on for dear life, taking a 6-4 win.
Butte isn't a team you beat in your sleep.The victory moved Salt Lake's (30-14) Southern Division lead over Butte (27-17) back to three games. The teams close out the series Thursday at Derks Field at 7 p.m.
On Tuesday the Trappers couldn't find a hero to stand forth. This time they were crowding one another. Second-baseman Kelly Zane may have taken top honors with a three-hit night that also included an acrobatic catch that helped secure the win. But not to be ignored were pitchers Bill Wenrick and Michael Gibbons. Wenrick went 71/3 solid innings before leaving with a 6-2 lead. Gibbons came on to throw relief in the top of the ninth and gain the save.
"That's how we've gotta win," said Trappers manager Barry Moss. "Defense and relief pitching."
Butte didn't play along easily. The Kings turned four double plays on the Trappers, ruining plans for any landslide innings. They cut a safe 6-1 lead to a not-so-safe 6-4 in the eighth when they finally forced Wenrick off the mound. And in the ninth they didn't go home until they had loaded the bases and scared the crowd into staying for the final pitch.
For Zane, a product of the University of Arkansas, it was the continuation of a long, hot - as in sensational - summer. Zane is leading the Pioneer League with a .445 average and has hit safely in 15 straight games. "Shhhhhh. Let's not talk about it," he said when reminded of his streak. "I had a 19-game streak in college - just two off the school record - and somebody let me know about it. Just like that it was gone."
Keeping himself and his hitting secret is getting to be a problem. He singled in the third inning, singled again in the fifth and tripled in the seventh. But his biggest moment was on a defensive play. In the sixth inning with the Trappers up 3-1 he made a leaping stab of Rod Morris' hit to second base and relayed the throw to first for a double play.
"Zane's catch was probably the turning point for me," said Wenrick. "It probably kept me in the game for a couple of more innings. I don't strike out a lot of guys and I need my defense."
After tying the score at 1-1 in the third the Trappers went ahead to stay on a pair of runs in the fourth. Jeff Allison and Kevin Ohama drove in a run each. In the seventh the lead stretched to 6-1 on RBI singles by Greg Ehmig, Tommy Boyce and Pat Waid.
Gibbons took the mound with men on second and third and one out in the ninth. He struck out pinch hitter Rob Maurer, walked Morris, and forced Thayer Swain to pop out. He threw two straight sliders for strikes, putting Swain down on the count, and then got him to pop out. "I threw that second slider to Swain and I could just see his knees buckle," said Gibbons. "I'll throw that same pitch until he shows me he can hit it. Tonight everything I wanted to do was just there."
And everthing the Trappers wanted to do was there, as well.