Apart from nearly hitting a game-tying homer, former Sky Sox outfielder Andrew Brown himself could not have scripted his starting debut with the Rockies better.
The 27-year-old earned his first start in a Rockies uniform in right field Wednesday, finishing 3-for-5 and batting in two runs from the cleanup spot in a 9-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. And when he departed Colorado Springs on Tuesday, he left a sizable void at the critical No. 3 spot in the Sky Sox lineup.
But with three costly errors, it was not offense but defense that helped Salt Lake to an 11-8 victory at Wednesday’s Military Appreciation Night.
“Offensively we have been swinging the bats well and we swung the bats well tonight, built a big lead, couldn’t hold it," manager Stu Cole said. "But defensively we played poorly, and you can’t do that.
“You can keep working at it and keep hitting them ground balls and hope they make the plays. You can’t play for them, you can’t do anything but send them out there and prepare them to play. They got to make the plays.”
As for Brown's absence: “It’s not going to be like one guy turns on and starts crushing balls out of the park,” said center fielder Charlie Blackmon, who has taken Brown’s spot in the lineup for two nights. “Everybody’s going to stare within themselves and try to step it up just a little bit.”
But Brown’s most memorable play in his second game at Coors Field was a ball that off his bat looked headed for the left-field bleachers but ended up left of the third-base line.
At Brown’s old home field, the Bees totaled six runs in the fourth and fifth innings to overcome a five-run third for Colorado Springs that included a three-run homer that slipped over the left-field wall from second baseman Brandon Wood. First baseman Efren Navarro’s seventh-inning double brought in the go-ahead run, and Salt Lake never lost the lead again.
Blackmon spent 27 games with the Rockies in 2011 and returned to his Triple-A squad from the disabled list July 4 after battling sesamoiditis, a bone inflammation in the foot similar to turf toe.
With multiple hits in seven of his past eight games, Blackmon assumes significant responsibility in the teamwide effort to make up for the 84 runs his predecessor batted in this season.
The Sox will also turn to Matt McBride, likely the Sky Sox’s top hitter without the Rockies’ newest addition roaming the outfield, for help as he rides an 11-game hitting streak.
A minor leaguer in his seventh season, McBride leads the team in batting average, RBIs, hits and is tied with Chad Tracy, Wood and shortstop Tommy Field for the team lead with seven long bombs.
“I think the past few weeks we’ve been swinging the bat pretty well as a whole, so hopefully we can just keep doing that,” McBride said. “Try to feed off each other and have one at-bat run into the next down the lineup.”
Brown’s old teammates are excited to watch him fulfill the goal of all Triple-A players, to make a major league roster, and jumped to their feet and cheered after they thought he hit the game-tying homer.
But his constant chatter in the clubhouse will be missed.
“He didn’t discriminate conversation with anybody,” Blackmon said.
“I think he definitely helped with the clubhouse rapport.”
Short hops: The Sky Sox boast 22 home runs in July, fourth-best in the Pacific Coast League heading into Wednesday’s game and the first 20-homer month for them this year … Colorado Springs’ 40-1 record when leading after six innings is best in their league.
Blackmon talks big leagues: “They’re mind-numbingly consistent,” he said of the difference between MLB and Triple-A hitters. “You can be a big league-caliber player one night here, but then maybe not the next night. And (in the majors) those guys are more likely to bring it every night.”