The Salt Lake Bees fought back from a four-run deficit, were the beneficiaries of a controversial home run call, and dramatically tied their game with Oklahoma in the bottom of the ninth inning on Wednesday night.
But none of it was enough to overcome RedHawks power hitter Nelson Cruz.
Cruz hit the game-winning home run, a solo shot in the top of the 10th inning, to give the RedHawks a 6-5 win over the Bees. Cruz's game-winner was actually only his second-most impressive feat of the night, as he hit a monstrous solo home run in the fifth inning that cleared the left-field fence and escaped the entire ballpark. The ball appeared to land on Main Street.
Salt Lake designated hitter Matt Brown played against Cruz in the Midwest League, so Cruz's hitting heroics on Wednesday night were no surprise to him.
"He was really skinny back then. He's not skinny anymore," Brown said. "The guy is amazing. He's a beast, too. Too bad he's not on Team USA."
Cruz is on a ridiculous hot streak. He has hit eight home runs in his last six games. He has hit a total of 34 home runs this season, which is already a RedHawks single-season record.
Cruz ruined what could have been a momentum-building night for the Bees. After falling behind 4-0, Salt Lake battled back to tie the game at 4-4 in the sixth inning. Brown hit a two-run homer, and Salt Lake first baseman Kendry Morales pulled the Bees even with a disputed solo home run.
Morales was originally credited with a double when a ball he hit appeared to land in the field of play. One of the game's umpires then ruled the ball had landed in the berm outside the left-center field fence and bounced back inside the field of play. Bees manager Bobby Mitchell said that's what he saw, and argued the original call.
Oklahoma manager Bobby Jones vehemently argued the reversed call and was ejected from the contest. Shortly after Jones was tossed, RedHawks pitching coach Andy Hawkins was ejected for arguing the call. Home-plate umpire Dan Bellino declined to discuss the ruling following the game.
Viewmont High product Nate Gold gave Oklahoma a 5-4 lead with a solo home run over the right-field fence in the eighth inning. Sean Rodriguez, fresh off of a one-day stint with the Angels, tied the game at 5-5 with a solo home run in the ninth.
Fortunately for the Bees, they maintained their five-game lead in the PCL's Northern Division because Portland also lost on Wednesday night. Still, for a team that had a 10 1/2-game lead in the division as recently as July 11, the Bees are feeling some pressure. They have lost four consecutive games and eight of their last 10.
"We're not happy,' Brown said. "It's not acceptable. We got to figure it out now."
BEELINES: The Bees' parent club, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, recalled right-handed pitcher Jason Bulger and optioned infielder Sean Rodriguez to Triple-A Salt Lake on Wednesday.
Bulger, 29, has appeared in 25 games for the Bees this season, owning a 2-0 record and a team-low 0.62 ERA with 10 saves. He began the 2008 season with the Angels, registering a 7.94 ERA in five games. The Lawrenceville, Ga., native and 2008 PCL All-Star joined the Angels in a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2006.
Rodriguez, 23, has appeared in 22 games for the Angels this season, hitting .185 with one double, one home run and three RBIs. Prior to Wednesday, he appeared in 50 games for the Bees in 2008, hitting .296 with 16 doubles, 15 home runs and 40 RBIs. He made his major league debut on April 19, hitting .250 at the plate against the Seattle Mariners. The Miami, Fla. native was originally selected by the Angels in the third round of the 2003 draft.