Walk-off? Anything but.
Roberto Lopez’s first instinct when he saw the ball leap off Jimmy Swift’s bat was to blaze all the way to the plate, but then he had to dash back to third to wait for the sacrifice fly to land.
When it was caught in right field, it was a race for home between Lopez and the throw — a race Lopez won by mere inches to slide in for the winning run in the Salt Lake Bees’ 2-1 victory Thursday night at Spring Mobile Ballpark.
“It’s huge, it’s awesome, it’s a great feeling,” said Lopez, still catching his breath in the locker room afterward. “Everybody was battling. We wanted to win really bad.”
The taut thriller gave a wave of relief for the Bees (14-14), who had been hemorrhaging runs in the last week. Stellar pitching outings gave the team a chance to split the series with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (14-11), and a near-flawless ninth inning finally delivered it.
Even though the atmosphere was tense, the club welcomed a tight-fisted affair over the slugfests it had been losing in the last few series.
“These are the same guys we lost seven in a row with, the same guys,” manager Keith Johnson said. “We did a good job just grinding through it. Our pitchers did a good job pounding the strike zone, which we had gotten away from a little bit, but it was good baseball.”
Unselfish play was key in the win. Lopez kicked off the ninth with a double to center, and Luke Carlin followed up with an expertly placed sacrifice bunt to advance him. Swift was looking only for contact on his sacrifice fly in the last at-bat.
The contest had been tied since the bottom of the fourth, thanks much in part to starter AJ Schugel and the bullpen. The staff gave up only six hits and one walk, the lone run on a homer by Matt McBride.
Schugel showed power and control that he had only flashed in his previous Triple-A starts. His father, Angels scout Jeff Schugel, was on hand to watch him fan five batters.
“It’s nothing different, he’s been watching me my whole life,” Schugel said afterward, a slim smile on his face. “I’m glad he was here for this one.”
Chad Cordero and Mitch Stetter didn’t allow any Sky Sox runners in a combined 2.2 innings of work. Stetter earned the win after a perfect ninth against the middle of the order.
Efren Navarro drove in the only other run, getting an RBI single in the bottom of the fourth.
Storylines Bees 2, Sky Sox 1
R Roberto Lopez scores the winning run on a sacrifice fly by Jimmy Swift.
• Starter A.J. Schugel allows one run and six hits in 61⁄3 innings.
• The Bees win their second game in a row after ending a seven-game losing streak.