Chagrined at the prospect of watching his team lose for the sixth time in as many outings against the Oklahoma Redhawks, Salt Lake Buzz manager Phil Roof found solace in his starting pitcher, Ricky Bones. The veteran right-hander, who had won his last four starts, striking out 21 batters and claiming a 2.52 ERA over the stretch, was called upon to find the Buzz a victory.
After giving up back-to-back home runs to Warren Newson and Tom Quinlan in the first inning, Bones did his part, scattering two hits over the next six innings to lead the Buzz past the Redhawks, 6-4."I can't tell you what (Bones) means to our club," Roof said. "His control was a little off for the first two or three innings, but he didn't give up. He kept battling and kept battling. It's impressive to come up with a performance like he did tonight."
With the exception of surrendering a sacrifice fly to Rick Wrona and an RBI double to Marc Sagmoen in the fourth, Bones seemed well in command, getting stronger and sharper as the game progressed. He pitched a one-two-three fifth inning before striking out the side in the sixth. No ball left the infield in the top of the seventh, his last inning of work.
"Bones is one of those guys who has been around awhile," Roof said. "He's not going to lose his confidence or his concentration (after) making a bad pitch here or there."
Fred Rath relieved Bones to start the eighth, doing something Buzz relievers have had difficulty achieving as of late - closing the deal. Rath gave up only two hits over two innings to earn his fourth save.
"It was a big effort," Roof said of Rath's performance. "It put a little credibility back into the bull-pen."
Offensively, Roof received a pleasant surprise from his six and seven hitters, center fielder Marc Lewis and designated hitter Jayhawk Owens. Lewis finished the game 3-for-4, with two doubles and a sacrifice fly, while Owens knocked in three runs, including an RBI single in the fifth to make a loser out of Oklahoma's Matt Perisho (6-3).
"Lewis is starting to swing the bat now," Roof said. "He had some ugly swings early in the season but he's starting to put some good swings back-to-back."
Lewis' only shortcoming came in the bottom of the eighth inning when he struck out with the bases loaded to end the threat of additional insurance runs. He redeemed himself in the field, however, making a heady play in the top of the ninth to help preserve the win.
The Buzz square off with the Redhawks again tonight and Wednesday before embarking on a 13-game road trip that sends them to Nashville, Memphis and Las Vegas.
"We need to get tougher," Roof said. "How you find that character comes in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. If we can come back and win some of those games that we are down by one, that helps build character, and we don't have that yet."
Taking one from Oklahoma is at least a start.