Gronkowski, Owlz come home to roost

First baseman's 4-for-5 night, six RBIs pave way past Chukars

(Mark Johnston)

June 28, 2007 9:35 PM ET

Gordie Gronkowski drove home six runs on Thursday, but he thinks he's just starting to get his feet wet in the Pioneer League.

Neverthless, his eighth-inning three-run homer all but flooded the Idaho Falls Chukars as Orem stormed to a 15-8 win at the Home of the Owlz.

Gronkowski went 4-for-5 with a career-high six RBIs, boosting his average to .429 in his 10th game.

He singled in the third inning, ripped an RBI single in the fourth, a two-run single in the sixth and hit his first homer of the year -- a three-run shot in the eighth, to put the Owlz ahead, 14-8.

"You don't always have a 4-for-5 night, but you always try to hit the ball hard every time," Gronkowski said. "Usually this doesn't happen. [Thursday] it just worked out." The first baseman put up a week's worth of stats just two days after his 24th birthday. Gronkowski, a 49th-round 2006 draft pick by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, said his teammates' success at the plate was the main reason for his lofty numbers.

"We put a lot of pressure on their [defense], and they gave me a lot of opportunities," Gronkowski said. "I might not have even had a chance in the eighth had the guys ahead of me not reached base. It could have been the end, but they did a nice job. I got up there and just had a chance."

Gronkowski played in 13 games for Orem in 2006 and finished 11-for-39 (.282) with three RBIs. He easily matched that total with one swing, sending Pat Cassa's fastball deep into the night. The righty said he had a feeling it was coming.

"The last time I faced [Cassa], he brought one inside and jammed me," Gronkowski recalled. "I watched a few guys before me, and noticed he was coming first-pitch fastball, so I sat on it. He left it right there where I was looking for it, and I smashed it out of the park."

The six RBIs are the most since the Jacksonville University product's freshman year, when he plated six in a game at Mercer.

Gronkowski said his teammates conducted a pre-game meeting to discuss their offensive approach after the Chukars held them to four runs in a 17-inning marathon loss June 23.

"Before the game we talked, we faced these pitchers before, so we had an approach," he said. "We usually don't talk before the game, but the first guy [Chris Denton] only threw 80-88 mph with changeups and sliders, so we were looking to go up the middle and right-center with authority."

Gronkowski wasn't the only one to take the talk to heart. Hector Estrella homered on a 4-for-5 night, and Jeremy Moore sent a 400-foot drive off the scoreboard in right in the second. All together, the Owlz (6-4) collected 18 hits.

"We said, if they come inside, just react," Gronkowski said. "We were just reacting and hitting the ball hard."

Tremayne Holland (2-1) allowed one run on three hits and a pair of walks over 1 2/3 innings, but picked up the win after Gronkowski's blast. Ryan Brasier retired the final five batters in order for his first save.

Orem starter Robert Fish allowed three runs -- two earned -- on five hits and three walks, fanning four, over four innings.

Gronkowski said the practice and game plan paid off.

"They beat us in 17 innings, but when you prepare and you come out here and do it, it makes it sweeter," he said. "We're trying to get into first place, so this is a huge win for us. Definitely boosts our confidence."

Denton (0-1) allowed seven runs -- three earned -- on nine hits and two walks with a pair of strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings for the loss. Clegg Snipes and Cassa each allowed four runs over 2 2/3 innings.

Zach Evangelho knocked in two runs, Devery Van De Keere went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run and Nick Van Stratten singled twice and scored a pair for Idaho Falls (8-2).

Danny Wild is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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