SALT LAKE CITY — Moments after Salt Lake’s dramatic 4-3 win over Las Vegas in Game 1 of the Pacific Coast League playoffs Wednesday night, 51s manager Wally Backman managed a weak smile.
Asked about Matt Long’s game-winning home run, which traveled about 325 feet into the right field corner, Backman stood outside a dead-silent locker room and said, “It was far enough, wasn’t it?”
For Salt Lake, Long’s homer was as memorable as any moon shot. It gave the Bees a 1-0 lead in the best-of-5 series against the favored 51s heading into Game 2 tonight at Spring Mobile Ballpark.
Long homered on the first pitch offered by Las Vegas reliever Rob Carson, who also allowed Scott Cousins’ two-out RBI single that tied the game in the eighth inning.
“I’ve faced Carson a lot, and those guys throw a lot of breaking balls, especially to lefties,” Long said. “So I was going up there looking for one up and got it.
“I didn’t really get it all. I just hit it to the right part of the yard — in the corner, down the line where it gets short. It was good placement, if anything.”
Backman credited Long for taking advantage of a high slider by Carson.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to Long,” he said. “You don’t want to get beat on the pull side late in the game, but he wrapped it around that foul pole.”
According to Backman, Carson also needed to make a better pitch against Cousins with the 51s trying to protect a 3-2 lead in the eighth.
“We had the right match-ups — the match-ups we wanted,” he said. “With Cousins coming to bat, I wasn’t too concerned. We know what kind of hitter he is, and he looked bad on breaking balls. But then we throw him a fastball.”
Salt Lake manager Keith Johnson praised the effort of his pitchers, including starter Matt Shoemaker, who gave up four hits and walked three batters in the first three innings but kept the Bees in the game. Salt Lake relievers Dustin Richardson, Jeremy Berg and Daniel Stange allowed only one hit over the final three innings — a double in the seventh by Brandon Hicks.
Shoemaker “found a way to get through six innings for us,” Johnson said. “He didn’t necessarily have his best stuff, but he made pitches when he had to. And our bullpen did a great job — just went after guys and got the outs we needed.”
Las Vegas used five pitchers in the final three innings behind starter Matt Fox, but its bullpen could not hold the lead. Is Backman worried whether the 51s will bounce back from such a discouraging loss?
“You have to have a short memory and come out tomorrow and do everything we did today — only win the game,” he said. “Offensively, if we had taken advantage of a couple of opportunities, we might have blown this one open early.”
Johnson, on the other hand, knows the Bees have much work remaining if they want to advance to the PCL Championship Series.
“Regardless of how emotional or whatever this is, it’s only one game,” he said. “We’re still locked in a series against a very good ballclub.”