The small-ball strategy worked out for Helena Brewers manager Jeff Isom. The pitching wasn't too bad, either.
Roque Mercedes and Nick Tyson protected two early runs and combined on a five-hitter Saturday as Helena blanked the Great Falls White Sox, 2-0, in Game 1 of their Pioneer League North Division series.
Mercedes (1-0) struck out three and scattered four hits over 5 1/3 innings. Tyson finished off the White Sox and picked up the save with 3 2/3 scoreless frames. He fanned five, walked one and allowed just one hit as the Brewers took the opener of the best-of-3 series.
"He did a good job, he threw strikes," Isom said of Mercedes. "It was a good performance by him overall, but it wasn't his best of the season."
Great Falls pitchers held Helena to three hits but face elimination in Game 2 on Sunday.
"We knew facing [Aaron] Poreda that we had a big task on our hands," Isom said of the White Sox starter, a first-round draft pick by Chicago in June. "We wanted to scratch across a run early and we did. Our players executed the little things, and that was the reason we won this game."
The Brewers, in an extreme small-ball scenario, scored a run in the first without a hit. Lee Haydel worked a walk and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and a passed ball. Jon Lucroy bounced a grounder to second baseman Dale Mollenhauer, who threw wildly to first as Haydel raced home for what held up as the decisive run.
Helena tacked on a run in the second when Steffan Wilson singled, advanced to second on Curt Rindal's grounder and scored on Matt Cline's ground-ball single.
Isom threw Tyson into a pressure situation in the sixth after Mercedes hit Mollenhauer and gave up a one-out single to Salvador Sanchez. Tyson cleaned up the mess when he got Jim Gallagher to ground into an inning-ending double play.
"That was big," said Isom. "That was big and he continued after that. He saved our bullpen, so we can now go with some guys tomorrow that we thought we'd have to use tonight."
Tyson worked a perfect seventh after second baseman Eric Farris robbed Christian Marrero with a diving play for the first out. Tyson fanned Josh Morgan and Andrew Mead to end the frame.
"He did leave the ball up a little bit, but this Montana weather is cold and he gave up some deep fly balls that didn't carry," Isom said of Mercedes, who induced three ground balls and 10 flyouts. "We were fortunate that balls weren't hit out of the ballpark. The way he pitched, it helped, he was up in the zone but he got a lot of fly-ball outs. He wasn't exactly sharp."
Poreda (0-1) struck out three, walked three and allowed two unearned runs on three hits over six innings. C.J. Retherford and Morgan doubled for the White Sox, who need a win on Saturday to keep their season alive.
The Brewers will turn to R.J. Seidel (4-0, 3.07 ERA) in Game 2, while Great Falls will counter with Juan Moreno (6-4, 2.39 ERA). Isom said Seidel has earned his chance at closing out the series.
"He's been throwing the ball well, he deserves the opportunity to get this start," he said. "We're hoping for a good outing. We'll be going with the best guys possible, we're not saving anybody for the next day. We need to win every game."