The Fresno Grizzlies are realizing even more that the object in the rear view mirror is a lot closer than it appears.
The Salt Lake Buzz pulled within spitting distance at 1 1/2 games with 6-2 and 3-2 victories to sweep Friday night's doubleheader at Franklin Covey Field.Buzz right-hander Shane Bowers was brilliant in moving his record to 7-5 in the opener. He scattered nine hits and allowed just two runs in notching his second complete game of the season.
Jeff Horn belted his first home run of the year in the third inning of the nightcap to lift the Buzz to the one-run victory.
In the last month, the Grizzlies have been as bad as the Buzz have been good, seeing their 14 1/2 game lead whittled to 1 1/2. The Buzz are 24-7 since the All-Star break, while the Grizzlies are struggling at 11-20.
"They're probably sticking with the same game plan," Bowers said of the Grizzlies. "They've had a lot of new guys with the trades and a couple of guys getting called up to the big leagues. I think it's just a matter of them trying to find team chemistry like they had early on."
Buzz manager Phil Roof sees it a little differently.
"We've sent just as many guys to the big leagues as they have," he said. "They're no more hurt than we are. That's our job, to get guys ready for the big leagues."
Roof was particularly impressed with the outing of Bowers, because it bought some rest for his bullpen.
"Bowers went out there with a lot of guts and pitched his heart out," Roof said.
"I didn't feel like I had good stuff coming in," Bowers said of his pre-game warm-ups prior to the opener. "I'm like `am I going to make it here?' My slider wasn't really good tonight, so I went to my changeup."
After surrendering a lead-off double by Matt Howard, who later scored on a ground out by Ramon Martinez, Bowers settled in with the effective changeup and allowed just one run the rest of the way, but he got a lot of help from his defense.
Bowers worked out of a third inning jam with a double play, and did it again in the fifth. But in the fourth, the Grizzlies scored a run on a solo homer by Jalal Leach.
"The double-play ball came in handy big time," he said. "Usually I'm a fly-ball pitcher and don't get many ground-ball double plays. Today I got the double play when I needed it to get out of jams."
The Buzz put the game out of reach of the Grizzlies with four runs in the third inning, fueled by five extra-base hits.
A.J. Pierzynski led off the inning with a triple and error that allowed him to score. Jeff Ferguson followed with a hit, and two-hitters later, with one out, Marc Lewis, Corey Koskie and Scott Stahoviak had back-to-back-to-back RBI doubles to push the lead to 4-1.
Leach's solo homer cut the lead in half, but a single run in the fourth on a Pierzynski RBI single and another RBI double by Stahoviak in the fifth proved to added insurance for the Buzz.
Bowers outdueled Fresno's Steve Soderstrom, who allowed six runs on 10 hits dropping his record to 9-3.
Stahoviak finished the opener by going 2-for-3 with two RBIs, while Pierzynski finished 2-for-3 with an RBI. Howard, Keith Williams and Craig Mayes all had two hits for the Grizzlies.
In the late game, Lewis and Buchanan had two hits each, but it was Horn's game-winning homer in the fourth that was the big blow for the Buzz.
Gus Gandarillas earned the victory out of the bullpen to move to 3-5 on the year.
The two clubs square off in the fourth and fifth games of the six-game series in another doubleheader today at 5:30 p.m.
Salt Lake's Gary Wilson will make his first start for the Buzz in the first game, opposing Randy Phillips (3-2 6.26 ERA). The starters for the nightcap are yet to be determined.
The series will conclude Sunday with a single game beginning at 5 p.m.