Rookie-level Orem turned to Sam Pastrone for the biggest game of its season. Pastrone responded with the most dominant night of his life.
The Angels right-hander tossed six perfect innings, striking out seven in the longest start of his pro career, and three relievers combined to finish off a one-hitter as the Owlz blanked the Billings Mustangs, 3-0, in the opener of the best-of-3 Pioneer League Championship Series.
"It felt great, just to get into a rhythm like that and to keep toeing up the rubber," said Pastrone, who went 3-5 with a 6.00 ERA in 14 outings in the regular season. "I felt like it just played well in my favor. I had a couple of great plays behind me. Our shortstop [Keith Grieshaber] made some phenomenal plays. [Cody] Ramer made a great diving play at second base. I had some outfielders go back and track down some balls. When you have the defense playing like that behind you and you're throwing the ball well, it kind of just all comes together."
The 19-year-old found a groove like no other in his Minor League career, retiring all 18 batters he faced by throwing 46 of his 62 pitches for strikes. Game 1 was Pastrone's first scoreless outing since he went three innings in a start for the Rookie-level Arizona League Angels against the Giants last Aug. 11 and came on the heels of allowing a run on four hits over three innings in his first playoff start against the Ogden Raptors five days ago.
"I feel like my fastball has been playing very well recently," Pastrone said. "The plan was I was just going to go out, pitch off my fastball, hopefully not show any offspeed too early. It worked out pretty well. I think through the first three innings, I only threw about two changeups. It worked out pretty well to where I was set up for later innings to use my offspeed more effectively."
After carving through the Mustangs lineup in his first three frames, the 2015 17th-round pick changed his look.
"I sat down with my pitching coach (John Slusarz) after that third inning and said, 'Hey, I feel like I've thrown a lot of fastballs. Guys are cheating a lot. Maybe we try to start pitching some guys backwards,'" Pastrone said. "He was all for it. He wanted to start lefties off with some changeups and then righties off with some curveballs. It kept them off balance with my fastball a little bit, and I just went back to the fastball to finish hitters."
Orem slowly but steadily built its lead on the way to the win. Jack Kruger scored the game's first run in the top of the second on a wild pitch by Mustangs starter Ian Kahaloa, the No. 24 Reds prospect. Zach Gibbons led off the fourth with a double and swiped home on a double steal after Nick Flair's single. Flair drove home Ramer with a single in the eighth for the game's lone RBI.
After Pastrone exited, Billings leadoff man T.J. Friedl -- Cincinnati's No. 13 prospect -- tried to spark his offense by bunting for a single to start the seventh against Orem reliever Greg Belton. The righty rebounded to strand Friedl at second after a stolen base. Ashur Tolliver pitched around an eighth-inning walk by striking out the side, and Tyler Warmoth retired the Mustangs in order in the ninth to pick up his second postseason save.
"It was just great to have one of these outings during the playoffs, and during the Final series, I just loved to give my team a chance to win it," Pastrone said. "We're all high hopes, ready to be 'two and a ring.' We're all really high energy right now. We're all getting ready to go, ready to get home, get an off-day after this travel [night] and get the ball back on Friday and get ready to go play and try to get a ring."