As the Salt Lake Bees cling to first place in the division, one of the team's biggest obstacles has been the Los Angeles Angels.
The big league affiliate called up hot-hitting outfielder Kole Calhoun and hard-throwing reliever Daniel Stange in the last few days. On Tuesday, the Bees even had to pull starting third baseman Chris Nelson mid-game thanks to an impending Angels trade.
It might've been understandable if the Bees (62-49) had extended their three-game losing streak to four. But a burst of doubles in the fifth and another strong bullpen performance boosted the club to a 5-4 win over the Iowa Cubs (51-60) to kick off a homestand.
"It's a tribute to the guys and the way they're going about their business and playing baseball," manager Keith Johnson said. "We're losing some key cogs to the lineup, but at the same time, every single one of these guys is earning their way up to the big leagues. That's our goal."
Even though Nelson, who went 1 for 1, was yanked early in the game, the club made due with what it had.
The Bees swung ahead in the bottom of the fifth, when Matt Long kicked off the rally with a double to score Drew Heid. The 3-3 tie was broken when Luis Rodriguez and Efren Navarro followed up with RBI doubles of their own, each scoring a run.
The Cubs inched closer thanks to a solo shot by Jae-Hoon Ha off Josh Judy in the seventh. But Jeremy Berg and Cory Rasmus protected the lead with a pair of scoreless, if not hitless, innings.
The Bees bullpen improved to a perfect 52-0 with a lead in the ninth, a sterling record that the team is eager to keep.
"Whoever's opportunity it is to get in there has done the job for us," Johnson said. "They relish the moment. That's a huge deal for our ballclub."
Long had a standout night at the plate, knocking in a single and a leadoff homer to go 3 for 4. Rodriguez was also 3 for 4, rounding out his game with a pair of singles.
After losing two of the team's best hitters in Calhoun and Nelson to the Angels this week, the Bees needed the extra push.
"It's just figuring out how to play with that missing piece," Long said prior to the game. "We made a lot of errors down in Tuscon, stuff that wasn't normal for us. We're just polishing up."
The Cubs had taken the lead in the second, thanks to three RBI doubles of their own. Nelson shaved point off the Iowa lead before his departure, scoring a run in the second on a grounder by John Hester.
Raptors 13, Rockies 11 • Grand Junction scored five runs in the eighth, but host Ogden held off the rally attempt for the win.
Owlz 10, Chukars 5 • Orem rallied with eight runs in a three-inning stretch to win in Idaho Falls.
Bees 5, Cubs 4
R Matt Long, Luis Rodriguez and Efren Navarro each hit RBI doubles in the fifth.