By Jared Lloyd
The Salt Lake Stingers had a chance to actually enjoy the fireworks this time.
Salt Lake took the lead late and held on to beat the Omaha Royals, 6-4 in front of 16,227 fans July 24.
“That”s where we”ve been losing games,” Stingers manager Mike Brumley said. “They get runs in the seventh, eighth or ninth and win the games. We held them off tonight.”
Salt Lake starting pitcher John Dillinger held the Royals scoreless for the first five innings. The performance was almost matched by Royals starter Brad Laxton.
Dillinger got a lot of help from the Salt Lake defense, which had struggled in the last couple of games. They finished with no errors and made some outstanding plays.
The scoreless pitchers” duel lasted until the bottom of the fifth, when Stingers left fielder Clay Bellinger knocked a fastball over the centerfield fence to give Salt Lake a 1-0 lead.
“He throws a lot of fastballs and he just left one hanging to far out over the plate,” Bellinger said. “I wasn”t sure whether it would clear the fence until I got to second.”
Omaha figured out Dillinger in the sixth, taking the lead on a two-run home run from third baseman Kit Pellow.
The Royals moved three runs ahead with RBI singles by catcher Dusty Wathan and right fielder Donzell McDonald.
Salt Lake made sure the Omaha lead didn”t last long. They scored three runs to tie things up in typical Stingers fashion: five singles.
“We got some big hits to come back,” Brumley said. “They weren”t flashy, but it worked to get us into the game.”
The defense came up with a big 5-4-3 double play in the top of the seventh to end the inning and not allow Omaha to get something started.
The Stingers got some help from the elements in the bottom of the seventh.
After second baseman Chone Figgins singled up the middle and first baseman Larry Barnes walked, designated hitter Rick Short hit a two-out liner to centerfield.
A light rain had been falling off and on throughout the game, making the grass slightly damp. As Royals centerfielder Rontrez Johnson backed up to get under it, he slipped on the grass and was unable to recover.
“I didn”t think it was that bad out there,” Bellinger said. “He must have tried to get a jump on the ball too quickly and lost his footing.”
The ball sailed over Johnson”s head and went clear to the wall, allowing Figgins and Barnes to score and give the Stingers the 6-4 lead.
Salt Lake seemed poised to add an insurance run in the eighth, as Bellinger hit the league-leading 61st triple of the year for the Stingers. He was stranded when Figgins and centerfielder Nathan Haynes flied out.
Omaha mounted a desperate comeback in the ninth. Left fielder Brandon Berger walked and designated hitter Dee Brown doubled, putting the tying run in scoring position.
With runners on second and third with only one out, Stingers reliever Francisco Rodriguez bore down, striking out the final two batters to end the game.
The Salt Lake victory pushed their lead in the PCL Central Division back to four games over Omaha. Iowa also won, defeating Colorado Springs to remain four games back.
The Stingers continue their series with Omaha July 25 at Franklin Covey Field. Royal RHP Edwin Hurtado (0-2, 11.57 ERA) is scheduled to face Stinger RHP Brandon Emanuel (2-3, 7.25 ERA). The game begins at 7:00 pm and can be heard locally on ESPN Radio AM 1230.