Chukars stay tied for first with 9-2 win over Brewers

Sanchez
Sanchez

Errors and poor pitching led to the Idaho Falls Chukars’ late-inning collapse on Friday. So how did they respond? By committing zero errors and shutting down the Helena Brewers’ lineup.

I.F.’s lineup was its usual self, as well. All of those ingredients added up to a 9-2 win over Helena on Saturday night at Kindrick Legion Field. The victory kept the Chukars tied with Orem for first place in the Pioneer League South standings.

Four-score

In one inning, I.F.’s lineup turned a pitchers’ dual into a comfortable lead. One inning later, the game became a laugher.

The Chukars and Brewers were tied at 1-1 heading into the fifth. Ryan Dale reached on an error to start the inning, sparking a four-run rally.

Dale led off the sixth with a walk, which sparked another four-run inning.

Catcher MJ Sanchez, shortstop Ricky Aracena and right fielder Yeison Melo recorded a hit in both the fifth and sixth. Sanchez provided the only extra-base hit a double in the two frames, and he finished the game 3 for 4.

The Chukars surrendered a 6-1 lead the night before. 9-1 proved too much for Helena to overcome, thanks in large part to their starting pitcher.

Sneaky Arnaldo

Hernandez
Hernandez

Chukars right-hander Arnaldo Hernandez has a quick pickoff move to first base that has sniped baserunners all season. Hernandez picked off another one Saturday, upping his season total to four.

The way he was pitching Saturday, Helena couldn’t afford to lose baserunners. Hernandez went 5.2 innings, allowing one earned run on seven hits, two walks and seven strikeouts. It was tied for his longest start of the season.

Two-team race

The Ogden Raptors are four games back of the Chukars and Owlz, but their chances of catching either team in the first half ended Saturday with a loss. The South division has two teams vying for the first half title, and four games remain.

I.F. (20-14) wraps up its four-game series at Helena (13-21) on Sunday and travels to Missoula (13-21) for three games starting Monday.

Orem, meanwhile, wraps up its four-game home series with Great Falls (18-16) on Sunday. The Owlz (20-14) then host Billings (21-13) for a three-game set starting Monday.

Billings and Great Falls are the only teams still breathing in the North division, but the Mustangs can clinch the first half title on Sunday with a win and a Voyagers loss.

Player of the game

Chukars starting pitcher Arnaldo Hernandez

Five I.F. batters recorded at least two hits, but Hernandez kept the Chukars in the game and clamped down after his lineups two big innings.

Up next

First pitch between the Chukars and Brewers Sunday is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. Igol Feliz gets the start for I.F. against fellow righty Karsen Lindell.

Chukars Notebook: Divergent first-half records

Viloria
Viloria

The first half of the Pioneer League baseball season will conclude in four days, and the Idaho Falls Chukars are tied for first place in the South Division. The Chukars have already won 20 games, a mark they didn’t reach last summer until August.

With 20 new players this season, I.F. was bound to play differently than last year’s team. But this much improvement is impossible to predict. Here are a few key areas of success for I.F. this half:

Deep lineup 

Alexis Rivera was one of the Pioneer League’s best hitters last season before moving up to Single-A Lexington (he was released this spring but signed a minor-league contract with the Los Angeles Angels). Josh Banuelos and Amalani Fukofuka painted the field with hits, as well, especially in the first half. The dropoff between those three and the rest of the lineup was Yellowstone Falls-esque.

Shortstop Marten Gasparini and second baseman D.J. Burt hovered around the Mendoza line. When right fielder Brawlun Gomez wasn’t hitting home runs, he was probably striking out. Third baseman Ryan Dale was never productive.

This year’s lineup is as deep as it relentless. I.F. has five wins this season when it trailed in the seventh inning or later, and that’s despite an error-prone defense and a shaky bullpen.

The bats are highlighted by catcher Meibrys Viloria, who transcends hyperbole. He leads the Pioneer League in five categories: batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, doubles and RBIs.

Viloria’s season has rendered many of his teammates underrated, namely third baseman Manny Olloque, right fielder Yeison Melo, outfielder Luke Willis and first baseman David Edwards.

Outfielder Tanner Stanley and first basemen Colton Frabasilio and Brandon Dulin were all promoted after each hitting over .300 in I.F. Newer starters like second baseman Jordan Ebert and outfielders Nick Heath and Rudy Martin have filled in admirably.

The only mediocre everyday hitters are Ricky Aracena and Angelo Castellano, and even the 5-foot-8 Aracena has trouble fitting into that category. The shortstop was hitting .282 with a .702 OPS through Friday.

The Chukars have already scored 274 runs (8.1 per game) this summer. They mustered 238 (6.3 per game) in the first half of 2015.

Improved pitching 

None of I.F.’s 2016 starters own ERAs worse than 7.00. Three I.F. starters had ERAs above 7.00 at this point last season, which led to more innings for a shaky bullpen. This year’s bullpen has been inconsistent, but manager Justin Gemoll has three arms with sub-4.00 ERAs at his disposal.

The biggest difference between these two staffs: strikes.

I.F. had issued 3.4 walks per game going into Saturday. Last year’s team averaged 3.8. Like nearly every 2015 pitching stat, that number was much higher in the first half.

Home comfort

The Chukars are 5-10 on the road this season, not far off from their 5-13 record away from home in the first half last season. The obvious key difference is at home.

I.F.’s home record this summer is 15-4, easily the best in the Pioneer League. The Chukars’ home run differential is plus-60, as well. The club went 8-12 at Melaleuca Field in first half last year, and they were outscored by 12 runs in those 20 games.

CC RAKING IN KC 

Cheslor Cuthbert moved up from Triple-A to the Kansas City Royals in May to fill-in for another former Chukar, Mike Moustakas. The All-Star third baseman is out for the season with a torn ACL, but Cuthbert has done his best to fix the broken hearts in Kansas City.

A 2-for-3 performance Saturday lifted Cuthbert’s batting average over .300 and his OPS over .800, the second time that’s happened in 63 games this season (the first time was in his fourth game).

Cuthbert’s progression has been linear. He hit .253 with a .601 OPS in May, .283 and .844 in June and .377 and .958 thus far in July. He also has nine home runs on the year.

Cuthbert played 14 games for I.F. in 2010 as a 17-year-old. He got a cup of coffee with Kansas City last season, when he hit .217 with a .650 OPS in 19 games.

ROSTER MOVES 

The Royals haven’t initiated much movement with the Chukars roster the last two weeks. In fact, I.F. has undergone just two makeovers since July 5.

July 13: Chukars outfielder Tanner Stanley moves up to Lexington. Fellow outfielder Leland Clemmons is released. Second baseman Jordan Ebert, outfielder Rudy Martin and right-handed pitcher Paul Young are promoted from the Arizona League to I.F.

July 16: Double-A Northwest Arkansas activates left-hander Sam Selman from the 7-day disabled list, ending his rehab assignment with the Chukars.

WHO’S HOT? 

RHP Andres Machado 

Machado had a 13.50 ERA after his first start. That number shriveled to 4.00 after Monday’s gem against Missoula.

Machado didn’t allow a run or a walk in five innings against the Osprey. He gave up one hit and struck out four.

Machado’s stinginess doesn’t end there. He has allowed one earned run on 11 hits, one walk and 17 strikeouts in his last 14 innings pitched.

WHO’S NOT? 

INF Angelo Castellano

Castellano’s batting average was as high as .280 on July 4. Since then he’s gone 12 for 56 (.214). He still has a solid OBP (.350 through Friday), but his patience has waned lately. And Castellano has only hit five extra-base hits all season, including none for home runs.

Chukars fall apart late, lose to Helena 8-7

Chukars shortstop Ricky Aracena turns a double play in the bottom of the second inning against the Helena Brewers Friday at Kindrick Legion Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Chukars shortstop Ricky Aracena turns a double play in the bottom of the second inning against the Helena Brewers Friday at Kindrick Legion Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)

For seven innings, the Idaho Falls Chukars looked liked they’d earn a clean, low-scoring win. But their bad habits returned in the final three frames.

I.F. surrendered a five-run lead and lost 8-7 in 10 innings to the Helena Brewers on Friday at Kindrick Legion Field. The Chukars are now 4-10 on the road and 4-8 in one-run games (1-7 in one-run games on the road).

Bullpen, defense blow it

Matt Portland had his longest, most effective start of the season Friday. And he became a footnote.

The Chukars left-hander went 6.1 innings, allowing one earned run on six hits with three walks and six strikeouts. I.F. led 6-2 when he exited the game.

Portland’s replacement, Nicholas Andros, gave up a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth. A lead that was 6-1 after the top of the seventh had shrunk to one.

An I.F. run in the top of the ninth calmed the tide, and Jason Freeman recorded two outs with a runner on second base in the bottom half. That runner reached base on a Ricky Aracena error an omen for that inning.

Aracena committed a throwing error at shortstop on the next play. The subsequent batter, Gilbert Lara, hit a fly ball to center fielder Rudy Martin. He dropped it, allowing a run to score and giving Helena runners at second and third.

Drew Milligan relieved Freeman and walked the first batter he faced to load the bases. The second batter, Weston Wilson, lined a single to left field. The game seemed finished, but Nick Heath fired a perfect throw home to punch out Lara and send the game to extra innings tied 7-7.

Heath’s heroics were short-lived. In the bottom of the 10th, Ronnie Gideon hit a one-out double and advanced to third base on a Heath error. Nathan Rodriguez came up next and lined a single right in front of Heath to end the game.

The Chukars committed one error going into the ninth inning. They finished the game with five errors.

Patient birds

Other than Portland, the main bright spot for I.F. on Friday was its plate discipline.

The Chukars drew eight walks, including five in the second inning. Those five bases on balls and an Aracena double led to a four-run inning.

Eight is the second-most walks I.F. has drawn in a game this season. The Chukars walked nine times against Ogden in the season-opener.

Player of the game

Brewers first baseman Ronnie Gideon

Several Helena batters had big games, but only Gideon reached base four times. He went 3 for 4 with a double and a walk.

Up next

The Chukars (19-14) and Brewers (13-20) reconvene at Kindrick Legion Field at 7:05 p.m. Saturday. I.F. righty Arnaldo Hernandez is scheduled to start against Helena lefty Cameron Roegner.

Local umpires step up at Chukars games

Umpires Conner Culhane (left) and Chris Sundvold talk during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ game against the Helena Brewers on July 15 at Melaleuca Field. Sundvold filled in for an injured Jacob Botek. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Umpires Conner Culhane (left) and Chris Sundvold talk during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ game against the Helena Brewers on July 15 at Melaleuca Field. Sundvold filled in for an injured Jacob Botek. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)

Teagan Smith knows Melaleuca Field well, but the ballpark looked foreign to him last Thursday.

Smith umpired an Idaho Falls Chukars game for the first time in his 10-year umpiring career.

His experience at Melaleuca Field is exclusive to high school games, which might feature 100 fans on a good night. The attendance at last Thursday’s game between the Chukars and Helena Brewers was 3,177.

The mix of a large crowd and professional stakes led to a bundle of nerves for Smith, who was filling in for the injured Jacob Botek. But the butterflies fluttered away once the game got rolling.

“It’s just baseball,” Smith said.

Smith was one of three local umpires who picked up Botek’s slack during the Chukars’ most recent homestand. Idaho Falls general manager Kevin Greene is tasked with finding replacement umpires. Conflicting schedules and low pay sometimes make that job difficult.

On the rare occasions when Greene needs to find a replacement umpire, he turns to Brent Martin. Martin is the District 6 commissioner for umpires and rules interpreter, and he has filled in at Chukars games for years. Martin declined to umpire last week due to a bad knee, so he recommended Smith and Brad Hadley to Greene.

Hadley worked with Pioneer League umpire Conner Culhane on Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. But neither Hadley nor Smith could work Friday’s game due to their previous commitments as umpires for American Legion baseball games. That left Greene in a bind.

“I called the (Pioneer) League president and said, ‘I’ve got no one,’ Greene said. “He said, ‘Kevin, you’ve gotta find someone.’”

Greene eventually got Chris Sundvold to fill in.

Players and coaches know the replacement umpires are not professionals, but the umpires didn’t poor treatment from the teams. And Smith, Hadley and Sundvold umpired relatively clean games. It’s just baseball, after all.

The only real issue is finding umpires, and scheduling is not the only conflicting factor.

The Pioneer League pays replacement umpires $75 per game, according to league president Jim McCurdy. Martin said umpires get paid about $75 for Legion games, and that number spikes to $120 for doubleheaders. Barring extra innings, Legion games last seven innings, and mercy rules can reduce game times even more. Every Pioneer League game goes at least nine innings, and umpires are required to show up an hour before first pitch.

“You should be getting $100, minimum, for a professional baseball game,” Martin said. “We don’t want to bleed them dry, but we think we should be compensated at least to the high school level or better.”

Umpires can make more than $75 for Pioneer League games, but the extra cash comes out of the team’s wallet, Greene said, and there’s only so much room in the budget. McCurdy said increased pay for replacement umps has not been discussed in recent league meetings.

Hadley doesn’t mind the meager pay. For one, the opportunities for local umpires to work Chukars games are so rare that the money they receive hardly affects their total income. Martin, for instance, hasn’t umped a Chukars game since 2014.

Hadley also considers it a privilege to work Chukars games.

“It’s fun to say that you’ve umped a (professional) game, even though it’s minor league,” he said. “I’m not too worried about the pay because it’s not that big of a deal.”

Errors, hard-hit outs doom Chukars in 4-3 loss to Brewers

chukars-logo-125x125

The Idaho Falls Chukars returned from another prosperous homestand with a low-scoring, error-ridden road loss. Story of their season.

Idaho Falls threatened late but fell to the Helena Brewers 4-3 on Thursday at Kindrick Legion Field. Orem beat Great Falls 5-3, so the Owlz and Chukars are now tied for first place in the Pioneer League South Division with six games remaining in the first half.

Road woes continue

The Chukars have won 15 of their 19 home games this season. They would have a comfortable division lead if they were merely average on the road. Instead, I.F.’s road record is 4-9 following Thursday’s loss.

The Chukars, however, have a run differential of zero on the road. Teams with zero run differentials generally sit around .500, since close games are so variant. I.F. is 4-7 in one-run games this season, and is 1-6 on the road. A little more luck and the Chukars’ would be around .500 in away games.

The Chukars also haven’t been the same offensive team away from Melaleuca Field. They average 9.0 runs per game at home and just 6.6 on the road.

The first half concludes at the end of I.F.’s current road trip, so the Chukars will need to reverse their road fortune if they want to win the first half title.

Contact lens

The Chukars scored three runs on nine hits Thursday. Those results constitute an underperformance on offense, but they obscure the number of hard-hit balls that found gloves.

I.F. batters hit seven line-outs, according to MiLB.com’s play-by-play of the game, and those don’t include sharp groundouts or deep fly balls.

Many factors have contributed to I.F.’s 1-6 road record in one-run games. Compilations of hard-hit outs have exacerbated the losing.

Dark and full of errors

I.F. has yet to put together a long stretch of low-error games this season.

The Chukars committed four more Thursday, increasing their Pioneer League-leading total to 80 (or 2.5 per game). The league’s second-most error-prone team is Ogden, and it has committed only 56 (1.8 per game) this summer.

Player of the game

Brewers starting pitcher Jordan Desguin

If the Chukars were going to score, Desguin wasn’t going to help them out. The right-hander threw 48 of his 69 pitches for strikes and didn’t walk anyone. He only allowed four hits and struck out four in six innings, allowing one earned run.

Up next

Lefty Matt Portland is scheduled to get the start for the Chukars (19-13) against righty Nash Walters of the Brewers (12-20). First pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m. back at Kindrick Legion Field.

Chukars turn on the power late, beat Osprey 6-5

Chukars infielders David Edwards (left) and Manny Olloque (right) high-five their teammates after Idaho Falls’ 6-5 win over Missoula on Tuesday at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Chukars infielders David Edwards (left) and Manny Olloque (right) high-five their teammates after Idaho Falls’ 6-5 win over Missoula on Tuesday at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)

The Idaho Falls Chukars’ lineup might take a while to wake up, but it never sleepwalks through a game.

That was the case again Tuesday. The Chukars didn’t record a baserunner through three innings, and they were hitless through four. No matter. They finished with 10 hits and a 6-5 win over the Missoula Osprey Tuesday at Melaleuca Field. I.F. now occupies first place in the Pioneer League South by itself.

Power out, power in

First pitch of Tuesday’s game was delayed 15 minutes due to a power outage that affected the entire region. Everything returned back to normal at Melaleuca Field around 6:45 p.m., except for the Chukars’ offense.

The team that averaged 8.3 runs on 10.9 hits per game heading into Tuesday was shut down the first four innings by right-hander Chester Pimentel. Not only did he hold I.F. hitless for four innings, he struck out six batters over that span.

Then the Chukars’ lights turned on.

Five singles led to three runs in the bottom of the fifth, and the Chukars suddenly had a two-run lead. Before that inning, it was easy to forget that Alex Luna I.F.’s best starting pitcher was also pitching a gem. He finished with three earned runs in 5.2 innings, but he only allowed five hits and one walk while striking out eight.

The Osprey regained the lead against Luna and Brian Bayliss in the top of the sixth, but a 5-3 deficit to the Chukars is like a summit reachable by wheelchair.

Sure enough, the Chukars scored once in the bottom of the sixth to inch closer. Meibrys Viloria led off the bottom of the eighth, and the outcome of his at-bat felt comically predicable. Viloria skied a 400-plus-foot home run to right field. The next batter, David Edwards, launched a pitch the opposite way over the left field wall to give I.F. the lead for good.

“You play to the last out of the ballgame, and that’s kind of the attitude these guys have taken,” Chukars pitching coach Andre David said. “That’s a good learning experience for them as they move up, to understand that you’re competing every pitch. That’s how you get better, is to be able to compete through the tough times as well as the good times.”

The Chukars have now won five games this season in which they trailed in the seventh inning or later. They’re also 15-4 at home.

Alone at the top

I.F.’s win, coupled with Orem’s 5-3 loss to Billings, vaulted the Chukars into first place alone in the South Division. I.F. has a 19-12 record with seven games left in the first half.

The Chukars were also at home on July 19 last year for their 31st game. They beat Billings 4-2 in 11 innings that night to improve to 11-20, and they finished the first half 13-25.

Melo named player of the week

Chukars outfielder Yeison Melo hit .520 last week, making him an easy choice for the Pioneer League player of the week.

From July 11 to 17, Melo went 13 for 25 with a double, triple and his first two home runs of the season.

Player of the game

Chukars catcher Meibrys Viloria

Viloria might cool down this season, but don’t hold your breath. The catcher went 3 for 4 with key hits: the game-tying home run and an RBI single in the sixth to cut Missoula’s lead to 5-4.

Viloria is now batting .472 in 89 at-bats this season.

Up next

The Chukars get Wednesday off and begin an eight-day road trip on Thursday at Helena (11-20). Jace Vines is scheduled to take on fellow right-hander Jordan Desguin in game one of the four-game series.

Chukars shine in speedy 7-0 win over Osprey

Machado
Machado

Life is good for the Idaho Falls Chukars at Melaleuca Field this summer.

The Chukars failed to reach 10 hits at home for the first time in 11 games (they finished with nine) Monday, but they came through when it counted. And combined with the dominating and efficient pitching of Andres Machado, Cole Way and Reinaldo Cepin, Idaho Falls cruised to a 7-0 win over the Missoula Osprey that sent the crowd of 3,502 fans home in 2 hours and 13 minutes.

The win pushed Idaho Falls to 14-4 at the friendly confines on Jim Garchow Way. Idaho Falls is tied with Orem for first place in the Pioneer League South Division at 18-12.

Mound masters

There’s efficient, and then there’s the performances turned in by Idaho Falls’ pitching trio Monday. Machado set the tone,allowing a double to Eudy Ramos with one out in the second inning but nothing else. The 6-foot, 175-pound right-hander pounded the strike zone, didn’t walk a hitter and struck out four in five innings. And he did it on just 51 pitches.

“He was dominating,” Idaho Falls manager Justin Gemoll said. “He had a good fastball, he had command He was on.”

Machado was followed by the 6-foot-10 lefty Way, who allowed just one hit while striking out two in two scoreless innings. Cepin finished it off, giving up two hits and striking out one in two innings.

Hit parade

Idaho Falls entered the game as the Pioneer League’s best hitting team. They added nine hits in 31 at bats to that total, giving the Chukars a .326 team batting average. And while they didn’t reach double digits Monday, they were timely when it mattered.

Ricky Aracena got things started with a leadoff walk, Angelo Castellano moved him to second on a fielder’s choice, Manny Olloque got him to third with a sac fly and Meibrys Villoria brought him home with a single to center.

Idaho Falls followed the same pattern in the second, with Nick Heath drawing a leadoff walk, Ryan Dale following with single, Luke Willis adding a sac bunt and Castellano scoring Heath with a single to left.

The Chukars broke it open in the third, highlighted by Dale’s two-run single to center.

“They’ve got a consistent approach,” Gemoll said. “They’re locked in on what they want to hit.”

Player of the game

The honor has to go to Machado, who picked up his first win of the season. The native of Carabobo, Venezuela, has allowed just one run in the last 14 innings. Machado’s ERA was 13.50 after his first outing, 10.13 after his second and 7.62 after his third. It sits at 4.00 after Monday’s gem.

Up next

The Chukars and Osprey wrap up their four-game series at 7:15 p.m. tonight at Melaleuca Field. Idaho Falls is then off Wednesday before opening a four-game series in Helena, Mont. on Thursday.

Sunday’s game

CHUKARS 11, OSPREY 3: Idaho Falls kept its good streak going, piling up 17 hits and rolling to its fifth win in the past five games in front of 1,104 fans Sunday at Melaleuca Field.

Designated hitter Yeison Melo led the attack, going 4 for 4 while pushing his batting average to .351. Melo singled twice, doubled and belted a two-run homer in the third inning.

But Melo was far from the only hitting hero. Shortstop Ricky Aracena went 3 for 3, drew a walk and scored three runs, Third baseman Manny Olloque was 3 for 5 with two runs scored and an RBI while second baseman Jordan Ebert went 3 for 5 with double, a run and two RBIs for Idaho Falls.

That was more than enough support for Chukars starter Igol Feliz. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound righty worked a solid seven innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits with three walks and four strikeouts to pick up his first win of the season. Lefty Christian Flecha got the final six outs, allowing a hit and a walk while striking out one.

Chukars Notebook: Q&A with Meibrys Viloria

Idaho Falls' Meibrys Viloria slides into third base with a triple against the Orem Owlz on June 24 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ Meibrys Viloria slides into third base with a triple against the Orem Owlz on June 24 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Four years ago, professional baseball scout Rafael Miranda told Orlando Estevez to check out a 15 year-old catcher/shortstop from Cartagena, Colombia.

Estevez was, and still is, the Kansas City Royals’ coordinator of Latin American scouting. The 15-year-old was Meibrys Viloria.

Estevez was in Colombia when he got Miranda’s call, so he made a short trip to see Viloria. Viloria’s bat, athleticism and makeup impressed Estevez so much, the Royals signed Viloria to a minor league contract a year later.

Last season with Burlington, Viloria didn’t record an extra-base hit. He has 20 extra-baggers in 21 games for the Idaho Falls Chukars this season, his third in the Royals’ farm system. Going into Saturday, Viloria led the Pioneer League in batting average (.462), on-base percentage (.511), slugging percentage (.859), doubles (13) and RBIs (28).

Viloria sat down with the Post Register on Thursday to discuss his blazing start to the season.

Miguel Castellano, brother of Chukars shortstop Angelo Castellano, translated for Viloria. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Have you done anything differently at the plate this year?

“One thing that has changed is that I’ve tried to swing more (than in previous seasons). Have better swings to whatever pitch is coming. Whatever I see in the zone, I’m swinging.”

Are you surprised you haven’t been promoted to Single-A Lexington or another level?

“I’m not surprised at all. I’m just trying to play very well and just wait and do my best. Whenever the time comes, I’m going to take it. But I’m not worried and I’m not waiting for it. I’m just going to do my best, and that’s it.”

How amazing did it feel to hit the walk-off grand slam against Ogden on July 5?

“It was a really good experience. I just waited for the right pitch and I swung. That’s what came.”

First walk-off home run in your career?

“The first walk-off in my life.”

You watched that ball for a few seconds. What explained that?

“(Smiles) It’s the last inning, so when you get a hit to make your team win, you feel amazing. You don’t know what to do. I was really excited because of the moment.”

On July 2, Grand Junction pitcher Heath Holder was ejected after hitting you in the back with a pitch. Why do you think he did that?

“It was because of the home run I hit earlier in the game. I stayed at home plate for a bit (and flipped my bat). It’s disrespectful to do that, so that’s why he did it.”

What was your reaction to getting hit?

“I knew that was going to happen at any time. I got up to the plate and knew it was coming.”

What can you improve on as a player?

“On defense, the throws to second base.”

Describe your life growing up in Cartagena.

“I was kind of poor. My mom always supported me to keep playing. When I got to travel to other cities (for baseball), my mom did everything possible to make it happen. When I got the chance to come here, I just took it.”

FROM CHUKARS TO ALL-STARS

Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez are two of the most famous former Chukars. They improved their resumes on Tuesday at theMLB All-Star Game in San Diego.

Both Hosmer and Perez hit home runs in the second inning. Those two blasts provided enough runs (three) to give the American League a victory over the National League.

The AL ultimately prevailed 4-2, and Hosmer, who went 2 for 3, was named the MVP of his first All-Star Game.

Hosmer, a first baseman, made 15 plate appearances for the Chukars as an 18-year-old in 2008.

Perez spent parts of two seasons with the Chukars. The catcher made 46 plate appearances for I.F. at the age of 18 in 2008 and made 259 plate appearances the following season.

BUTLER BACK

Oakland Athletics first baseman/designated hitter Billy Butler made his near-annual trip to Idaho Falls this week as the MLB had it’s All-Star break.

Butler visited I.F. the same time last year and in previous years. The former Chukar lived in I.F. during the offseason from 2007 to 2011 and met his wife, Katie Hansen, there in 2004.

Butler played 74 games for the Chukars in 2004 and became an All-Star with the Royals.

STANDINGS UPDATE

The Chukars (16-12) sit a game behind first-Orem (17-11) in the Pioneer League South standings with 10 games left in the first half.

WHO’S HOT?

OF Yeison Melo

Melo has ridden waves of production this season. His batting average reached a season-high .357 on June 28 but fell to .275on July 6. Going into Saturday, Melo had gone 16 for 34 (.470 average) with a home run since, and his OPS rose from .711 to .850.

WHO’S NOT?

RHP Igol Feliz

Feliz had a 2.76 ERA through his first three starts. That number ballooned to 6.48 his last two starts.

So what went wrong? First off, he allowed 20 hits in 8.2 innings pitched, leading to 13 earned runs. He also allowed five walks and only struck out three. It’s hard to limit runs when you’re not missing bats and not throwing strikes.

Chukars claw back but lose heartbreaker to Osprey

Missoula catcher Andy Yerzy tags out Manny Olloque for the second out of the ninth inning Saturday at Melaleuca Field. The play preserved Missoula’s 12-11 lead, and the Osprey closed the game out a batter later. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Missoula catcher Andy Yerzy tags out Manny Olloque for the second out of the ninth inning Saturday at Melaleuca Field. The play preserved Missoula’s 12-11 lead, and the Osprey closed the game out a batter later. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)

With one throw, Meibrys Viloria went from hero to afterthought.

The new hero was Missoula Osprey center fielder Billy Endris, who made a game-saving throw in the ninth inning. Missoula prevailed 12-11 over the Idaho Falls Chukars thanks in large part to Endris’ throw, but it was hardly the only momentous play of Saturday’s game at Melaleuca Field.

Billy’s got a gun

Manny Olloque led off the bottom of the ninth inning with an infield single and moved to second on a Yeison Melo bunt. Viloria, the Pioneer League’s best hitter this season, came up next and smacked a single up the middle. Chukars manager Justin Gemoll waved Olloque home.

Endris scooped up the sharp single, gathered and fired a perfect one-hopper to catcher Andy Yerzy. The play was close, but Yerzy clearly tagged Olloque before the Chukars third baseman touched home plate.

Missoula exhaled an at-bat later when David Edwards flew out to left field to end the game.

Chukars refuse to die

As thrilling as Endris’ throw was, Missoula’s pitching staff is kicking itself for letting the game come down to that play.

The Osprey took a 5-2 lead through four innings, an 8-4 lead in the top of the sixth and an 11-7 lead in the middle of the eighth. They were frankly outplaying the Chukars in every area, but I.F. kept lingering due to its explosive bats. In the bottom of the eighth, the Chukars pounced.

I.F. was down 11-8 with two outs and runners on the corners when Rudy Martin stepped to the plate. In an 0-1 count, the left-handed Martin drove a fastball the opposite way. It carried all the way to the video board, 381 feet away, for a game-tying home run. It was Martin’s first home run this season and his second in his two-year minor league career.

Wild night

Chukars reliever Jason Freeman threw three wild pitches Saturday night, and one too many.

In the top of the ninth, Freeman allowed a leadoff double to Eudy Ramos, who reached third base with two outs. With Logan Soole batting, Freeman threw a wild pitch that allowed Ramos to score easily.

The run turned out to be the game-winner.

Player of the game

Osprey first baseman Tanner Hill

In a game full of home runs, Hill is an easy choice for this award. The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder hit two home runs, the first of his 15 game-old professional career. He added a double and a single to finish 4 for 4.

Up next

The Chukars (16-12) and Osprey (12-16) reconvene at Melaleuca Field on Sunday at 4 p.m. Igol Feliz is scheduled to get the start against fellow righty Connor Grey.

Chukars cruise 9-2 with World Series trophy at Melaleuca Field

 

Wendy Barckholtz takes a photograph of her children Zane, 13, and Mallory, 8, along with the World Series Trophy on display at Melaleuca Field on Friday evening. The family came from Buhl to watch the Chukars play. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Wendy Barckholtz takes a photograph of her children Zane, 13, and Mallory, 8, along with the World Series Trophy on display at Melaleuca Field on Friday evening. The family came from Buhl to watch the Chukars play. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Curt Nelson “woke up” the 2015 World Series trophy at 6 a.m. on Friday.

Nelson, the director of the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame, put the trophy in a case and wheeled it out of Kauffman Stadium. The two headed to Kansas City International Airport, where they caught a flight to Denver at 9 a.m. From Denver, Nelson and the Commissioner’s Trophy flew to Idaho Falls.

The trophy’s final destination was Melaleuca Field, where it was on display during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 9-2 win over the Helena Brewers Friday night. It was the first visit to I.F. in the trophy’s 49-year history.

Trophy life

The Commissioner’s Trophy has now visited five of Kansas City’s six minor league affiliates (the other Rookie-level team, Burlington, will get the trophy in August). These visits must work around the Royals’ schedule because the trophy is displayed for all 81 games in Kansas City. The Chukars got an opening this weekend with the Royals playing in Detroit.

The World Series Championship trophy is on display at Melaleuca Field. The trophy is being taken to all the Kansas City Royals affiliate team sites. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
The World Series Championship trophy is on display at Melaleuca Field. The trophy is being taken to all the Kansas City Royals affiliate team sites. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Nelson flew coach on his trip to Idaho Falls. Sitting next to him was the trophy, with a seat belt around its base and everything. Passengers gawked.

“The question I get most often is, “Is that the real one?” Nelson said.

Nelson handles the trophy with white gloves, but he doesn’t worry about the trophy — which cost tens of thousands of dollars to make — getting broken or stolen. In fact, the trophy sat on a plastic table and was not covered as fans took photos with it.

“I try not to get too nervous,” he said. “I have to remind myself to be careful with it.”

The trophy will also be displayed during Saturday’s game, and it will fly back to Kansas City on Sunday morning.

Swept away

Many I.F. players saw the Commissioner’s Trophy in person for the first time. An easy narrative would be to credit the trophy — and the 3,280 fans that came to see it — for I.F.’s dominant win.

Helena’s Ronnie Gideon just makes it to second base as Idaho Falls’ Angelo Castellano fields the ball during Friday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Helena’s Ronnie Gideon just makes it to second base as Idaho Falls’ Angelo Castellano fields the ball during Friday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

But the Chukars played like this well before the trophy arrived. Friday’s win completed a three-game sweep and increased their winning streak to four. I.F. won all four games by at least six runs.

“For those guys, it’s good to actually see (the trophy),” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said of his players. “It shows them what they’re working for, the ultimate goal of winning a world championship. I don’t know if it had any effect on our game or not. These guys have been playing hard since we got them.”

Everything was firing on Friday. Matt Portland had a no-hitter through four, the defense made few mistakes and every batter recorded a hit. Luke Willis and David Edwards each hit their third home runs of the season, and Yeison Melo hit his first — a 428-foot, three-run blast in the fourth.

“I feel comfortable hitting the ball right now,” Melo said through translator Ramon Castro, I.F.’s bench coach.

A different World Series celebration

The Chukars’ pitching coach Friday was not Jeff Suppan. In his stead was Royals minor league pitching coordinator Larry Carter.

Suppan is visiting St. Louis this weekend for a reunion with his former teammates on the 2006 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Suppan started game four of that World Series, allowing three earned runs in six innings. The Cardinals won that game 5-4 and closed out the series a game later.

Player of the game

Chukars starting pitcher Matt Portland

The left-hander was literally unhittable for the first four innings. He struggled in the fifth, allowing two runs on Helena’s only three hits of the game.

Overall, Portland allowed two earned runs with three walks and seven strikeouts in five innings.

Up next

The Chukars (16-11) begin a four-game series against the Missoula Osprey (11-16) at 7:15 p.m. Arnaldo Hernandez is scheduled to start for I.F.