Perhaps the Idaho Falls Chukars’ toughest second-half loss occurred Monday, when an eighth inning home run lifted the Grand Junction Rockies to a 5-4 win.
Tuesday’s loss looked more garden variety, but the Chukars squandered good chances to take the game, split the series and remain within striking distance of first place.
The Rockies earned a 5-1 win Tuesday at Sam Suplizio Field. The Chukars lost the final three games of the four-game series, and they now sit 5.5 games behind Grand Junction in the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings.
I.F.’s offense was quiet for most of Tuesday night, but it perked up in the top of seventh inning, down 3-1.
With one out, Nick Heath walked, Jordan Ebert reached on an error and MJ Sanchez was hit by a pitch. That set the table for leadoff hitter Luke Willis, who had gone 2 for 3 heading into the at-bat. He struck out looking. Manny Olloque came up next and flew out on the first pitch.
The Chukars finished 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
Drew Milligan came out for his second inning of work in the bottom of the seventh, and he notched a strikeout and a groundout to start the frame. The next four batters went walk, single, walk, single. Two runs scored, and the Rockies led 5-1.
The Chukars couldn’t have planned a better way to open their four-game series at Grand Junction. They won 13-3 and climbed to 2.5 games behind the Rockies (3.0 behind then-first place Ogden).
A series split would have put I.F. 3.5 games behind the Rockies and two behind the Raptors (Orem won the first-half title, so it cannot win the second half title). Winning three out of four or sweeping the series would have been gravy for the Chukars.
Instead, I.F. lost the final three games in eclectic fashion. Sunday’s loss stemmed from a poor start by Igol Feliz. Monday’s was a back-and-forth back-breaker. Tuesday’s fell at the feet of the lineup.
The Chukars have 16 games left to erase a 5.5-game deficit and jump two teams in the South standings.
Player of the game
Rockies starting pitcher Ty Culbreth
The left-hander pounded the strike zone throughout his five innings of work. That cost him in some cases (seven hits, including three doubles), but he escaped his few pickles. Culbreth allowed one earned run, walked none and struck out five on 70 pitches (52 strikes).
The Chukars (30-30 overall, 8-14 second half) travel to Orem (32-28, 10-12) Wednesday for a two-game series to finish the road trip. I.F. lefty Matt Portland (6.08 ERA) faces righty Travis Herrin (6.41) at 7:05 p.m.