Ben Johnson knew he was a better hitter than his .176 batting average with the Salt Lake Bees indicated entering Thursday night's game. And the switch-hitting catcher showed it in front of a near-sellout Pioneer Day crowd.
Johnson, who was promoted to the Bees from double-A Arkansas on July 7, pounded a two-run homer batting from the left side of the plate in the fourth inning against the Oklahoma RedHawks. He then did the same feat from the right side of the plate in the sixth inning of Salt Lake's 9-8 victory.
"I've felt good for awhile, but you just go through stretches when you don't get hits and you hit balls hard at people," Johnson said. "But it's just a matter of getting pitches to hit and taking advantage of that. I've got a bunch of good hitters around me, so I just want to do my part as best I can."
It was the first time a Bees player had hit a homer from each side of the plate in the same game since Tommy Murphy did it on Aug. 6, 2006.
The win ended a four-game losing streak for the Bees, which improved to 61-44 with the victory. Salt Lake, despite a good overall record and a lead in the PCL Pacific North Division, entered Thursday's game having lost eight of their previous 10.
"It wouldn't have been so nerve wracking if we hadn't have lost (four) games in a row," said Bees manger Bobby Mitchell of the come-from-behind victory. "We were trying to win at home in front of this big crowd. The fans deserve for us to win in front of them and we've struggled at home some, especially lately."
Johnson, who had 20 homers for Arkansas this season before being promoted, wasn't the only player to show his power for the Bees on Thursday. Second baseman Sean Rodriguez hit a pair of solo shots including the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh to give the Bees a 9-8 lead. Shortstop Brandon Wood had a two-run shot, his 19th of the season, as well.
"Lately it's just been that when we hit we don't pitch and when we pitch we don't hit," said Rodriguez, who has three homers in two games. "When we start clicking together, then we'll go off. We've got to hope that happens eventually so we can stay ahead and get into the playoffs."
Oklahoma starter Brian Gordon, who spent his first nine years in pro baseball as an outfielder, gave up six runs in five innings, but didn't figure in the decision. Oklahoma reliever Kazuo Fukumori, who gave up Rodriguez's second homer, suffered the loss. Bees starter Dustin Moseley gave up four earned runs in 6 1/3 innings, but reliever Matt Wilhite earned the victory.
The series finale will be tonight. Salt Lake is scheduled to start Shane Loux (10-6, 3.89 ERA) against Oklahoma lefty Michael Ballard (1-0, 3.00).BEELINES: Parent club L.A. Angels of Anaheim sent reliever Jason Bulger back to the Bees on Thursday. He had only been called back up to the majors on Wednesday. It marks the 120th transaction for the Bees already this season. By comparison, the team had 75 transactions by this time a year ago. Bulger pitched a perfect ninth inning for the Bees on Thursday, striking out the side, to earn his team-best 11th save of the year. ... Utah native Chris Shelton went 2-for-5 for the RedHawks with two RBIs and his first triple of the season. ... Attendance was 15,759.
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