Another solid start, a hot lineup and a fresh mustache keyed the Idaho Falls Chukars’ second straight win.
The Chukars ended the seven-game homestand with a 7-3 win over the Billings Mustangs on Thursday night at Melaleuca Field. The win over the Pioneer League’s best team gave I.F. its first back-to-back victories in August.
Matt Portland started a string of a strong starting pitching performances on the homestand. The left-hander topped off the seven home games with another solid start.
Portland pitched five innings, allowing three runs (one earned) one five hits and three walks with six strikeouts.
“We worked a lot on his tempo, with the idea of throwing it through the strike zone instead of to the strike zone,” Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan said.
Every Chukars starter on the homestand pitched at least four innings, and the most earned runs any of them allowed was two.
Drew Milligan entered Thursday’s game with a 9.27 ERA, which ballooned thanks to nine earned runs over his previous four innings. The left-hander said he was thinking too much about mechanics, but there was also something missing. He needed a mustache.
Milligan said he pitched well in extended spring training, the last time he sported a thick mustache. A couple weeks ago, he decided to bring it back. The stache grew back to spring training form Thursday, when he pitched three scoreless innings. Was it due to the mustache?
“One-hundred percent,” Milligan said. “It’s gotta stay, for sure.”
Milligan didn’t allow a hit or a walk, and he struck out three. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is now 28-to-7, and he still hasn’t allowed a home run.
“It’s a process,” Suppan said. “‘What makes me more intense? What makes me less intense? How do I take the same intensity every game?’ That’s what they’re learning, and Milly did a really nice job tonight.”
Lefty Richard Lovelady closed the game out with another perfect ninth inning. Lovelady has allowed one earned run in seven innings with the Chukars. He’s struck out nine, walked one and allowed four hits.
Sending them home
A week ago, the Chukars were struggling with runners in scoring position to an unsustainable degree. They went 1 for 25 with runners on second and/or third at Billings over the weekend, and they only slightly improved to start the homestand.
I.F. went 4 for 11 (.364) with runners in scoring position during Wednesday’s 7-5 win. That number swelled to 6 for 12 on Thursday.
In the bottom of the fourth, I.F. had a 4-2 lead with Luke Willis on third, one out and Ricky Aracena at the plate. The Chukars shortstop hit a high chopper to the left side, and pitcher Patrick Riehl appeared to touch it before it hit the ground and bounced foul. But home plate umpire Trevor Danneger ruled it foul, even after a discussion with base umpire Chris Sundvold.
The call looked like an omen, the way the Chukars had played earlier in the homestand. Instead, Aracena walked, Meibrys Viloria drove Willis home, and Aracena scored on a groundout.
Player of the game
Chukars second baseman Angelo Castellano
Castellano led all hitters with three hits, and he finished 3 for 4 with an RBI and two runs scored. But he also earns this honor for the impressive range, body control and arm strength he displayed at second all night.
The Chukars (29-27, 7-11 second half) get Friday off and start a six-game road trip Saturday. Arnaldo Hernandez is scheduled to start against fellow righty Alejandro Requena in game one of a four-game series against the Grand Junction Rockies.