Umpire calls carry extra weight right now for the Idaho Falls Chukars, who are battling the Ogden Raptors for the Pioneer League South Division title.
So the frustration ramps up when the umpires, from the Chukars’ perspective, make mistakes.
That frustration was evident Monday night against the Grand Junction Rockies, who benefited from several calls that drew ire from I.F.’s players, coaches and fans. It didn’t help that the Chukars lost the game 9-8 and fell one game behind Ogden in the South Division second-half standings. There are eight games left in the regular season.
“We had a couple of bad calls we should’ve gotten,” Chukars second baseman D.J. Burt said. “But that’s baseball.”
The Rockies scored twice off Carter Hope in the top of the first inning, but the Chukars took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the first. Both teams went on to score every half inning until the bottom of the fifth, when the game was tied 7-7.
The Rockies took the lead back in the top of the seventh on a two-out, two-run single by catcher Chris Rabago off left-hander Ian Thompkins.
The Chukars loaded the bases in the eighth with two outs but failed to score. In the ninth, they loaded the bases with no outs and scored a run, but they needed at least one more.
Most of the Chukars’ frustration with umpires Isias Barba (home plate) and Luis Hernandez (field) stemmed from balls and strikes.
In the sixth, Barba called Burt out on a high strike. Burt voiced his displeasure with Barba’s call as he walked back to the dugout.
Melaleuca Field got heated in the bottom of the ninth, too, when Hernandez ruled that third baseman Logan Nottebrok went around while trying to check his swing. Fans were incensed, and the umpires told several Chukars in the dugout to settle down. Nottebrok struck out looking on the next pitch, and that call wasn’t popular, either.
“They’re young, too,” Chukars’ manager Justin Gemoll said of the umpires. “Hopefully they learn from it. Things happened to both sides; it wasn’t like it was only our team. It’s just part of the game.”
Burt made noise in another way when he hit a triple in the first inning. That hit extended his on-base streak to 48 games, which is a 2015 high for affiliated baseball, according to the Chukars. Burt (1 for 3, two walks) passed Matt Holiday of the St. Louis Cardinals.
“It feels good,” Burt said. “At the plate, I didn’t want to think about it too much. I just wanted to stick to my game plan, be patient and be a spark to this team.”
First baseman Josh Banuelos went 2 for 4 with a walk, left fielder Roman Collins went 2 for 5 and center fielder Amalani Fukofuka went 1 for 3 with two walks.
The Chukars (33-35, 20-10 second half) host the Raptors (40-28, 21-9) for a two-game series starting at 7:15 tonight. The teams have a 7-7 record against each other this season. If they have equal second-half records at the end of the season, head-to-head record would be the first playoff tiebreaker, so both teams crave a sweep in their final series.
Valenzuela traded for Gomes
The Kansas City Royals bolstered their lineup Monday night by acquiring outfielder Jonny Gomes from the Atlanta Braves, first reported by Fox Sports. In return for Gomes, the Braves received shortstop Luis Valenzuela, who started the season with the Chukars.
Valenzuela, 21, hit .486/.472/.600 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 37 plate appearances for I.F. this season. On July 2, he was promoted to Single-A Lexington, where he hit .339/.368/.483 in 184 plate appearances.
Valenzuela will be assigned to the Single-A Rome Braves, Atlanta announced.
Behind a record sixth inning, the Chukars pounded the Rockies 16-7 on Sunday at Meleleuca Field.
The Chukars trailed 6-3 going into the sixth. After the inning, they led 12-6. The nine runs are the most I.F. has scored in an inning this season.
Designated hitter Amalani Fukofuka had one of his best games of the season, going 5 for 6 and finishing a home run shy of the cycle. The five hits are the most by a Chukars’ batter in a single game this season.
Catcher Nick Dini went 3 for 4 with a double, while Banuelos (2 for 4, double, two walks), right fielder Brawlun Gomez (2 for 4, double, walk), center fielder Cody Jones (2 for 6) and shortstop Gabriel Noriega (2 for 5) each had two hits.
Noriega is on a rehab assignment. He transferred from Triple-A Omaha to I.F. before Sunday’s game.