Triple-A baseball is supposed to be about player development as much as winning and losing. Toward that end, the Salt Lake Bees are now starting to learn the pressures of being in a pennant race.
Only 16 games remain in the regular season, and the Salt Lake Bees are still in the driver's seat to win their third consecutive division title. Still, the Bees, thanks to a recent slump, have allowed their competition to make things interesting. Salt Lake lost 6-2 to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox on Sunday afternoon at Franklin Covey Field. That means they are just four games ahead of second-place Tacoma in the standings after owning a double-digit lead over the Rainiers for most of the season.
"It's more a race now, and it hasn't been a race all season," said Bees outfielder Terry Evans. "That might be a good thing to kind of challenge us. We got so far ahead so early that we might have coasted through the rest of the season. But now we have to step it up again."
Salt Lake dropped to 73-55 with the loss on Sunday, which was their eighth setback in their past 11 games.
"Now we are in a race, and that isn't such a bad thing," said Bees manager Bobby Mitchell. "It can be a positive thing for our team to see how we react. We really haven't been pushed too much the whole season. We'll see how we do, see if we can hold on."
The Bees ended a four-game losing streak with a home win Saturday night and could have made it two in a row, but they couldn't take advantage of several chances. Salt Lake stranded eight base runners for the game, including runners at second and third with one out in the seventh inning and the bases loaded in the eighth.
Salt Lake pitcher Nick Adenhart took the loss to fall to 7-12 on the season, but he had one of his most efficient starts in weeks. He gave up just three runs through seven innings and pitched into the eighth.
The Bees trailed just 3-2 until the eighth when Colorado Springs first baseman Joe Koshansky ripped a three-run homer off of reliever Darren O'Day.
Even then, the Bees loaded the bases in the bottom half of the eighth to bring the tying run to the plate, but they couldn't get the timely hit they needed for a rally.
Perhaps the best news for the Bees was seeing Evans hit a home run, just his third during his injury-plagued season. Evans, a 2007 triple-A All-Star for the Bees, missed three months with a shoulder injury and just returned to the lineup last week.
"It feels like the first week of spring training," said Evans. "Three months is a long time, and it's not like I was hitting during that time. It was nothing but rehab to get the shoulder better. ... I expected to come back a little rusty and for my timing to be a little off, but hopefully toward the very end of the season and the playoffs I'll be right back in the swing of things."
The third game in the four-game series against the Sky Sox is scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. The Bees will start Nick Green (7-6, 5.19 ERA) against Colorado Springs' Oscar Villarreal, who will be making his first start of the season for the Sky Sox.
BEELINES: Tonight's game will be broadcast live on KJZZ. It will be the last game of the season to be televised. ... Infielder Corey Smith was promoted to the Bees from double-A Arkansas on Sunday, while outfielder Jordan Czarniecki was sent down to double-A. Smith was hitting .275 with 31 doubles, 23 homers and 76 RBIs for the Travelers. Czarniecki played in 32 games with the Bees, hitting .252 with three homers and 10 RBIs. ... Attendance at Sunday's game was 3,730.