This time the ninth inning magic eluded Lino Garcia and the Missoula Osprey.
Garcia popped out to second with two outs and the tying run on first in the bottom of the ninth as the Billings Mustangs continued their mastery of the O's, winning 6-5 before 1,442 fans at Missoula's Lindborg-Cregg Field Sunday night in a battle of the top two teams in the Pioneer League's North Division.
The Osprey had made leaps and bounds since a season opening sweep at the hands of the Ponies, but the O's resembled their former selves and committed five errors in the narrow loss.
"I'm just disappointed that we continue to make mistakes against this team," Osprey manager Chip Hale said. "They're playing well. I don't want to take anything away from Billings, but we seem not to be able to make the routine play where the last five or six games we've done a better job of doing that."
Garcia, who had been successful Saturday night and two previous occasions with the game-winning hit in the ninth, did connect for a two-run homer in the fifth.
Right-hander Gerg Perkin started on the hill for the Osprey, but left after the fourth due to pain in his pitching arm. Perkin went on the disabled list for the O's last July with an elbow injury and will be examined by doctors on Monday.
"It was my choice to come out of the game," Perkin said. "I wasn't feeling too good out there."
With the loss, the O's fell to 8-8 and three games behind the Mustangs in the North. That assures Billings of leaving Missoula with possession of the league lead when the series concludes on Tuesday.
The Osprey got one run in the second on a Dustin Vugteveen RBI single and one more in the fourth when Jeramy Janz singled home Scott Hairston. Both runs came off of Billings starting hurler Bradley George, who entered the game 0-1 with a 10.13 ERA.
However, Billings scored three in a disastrous third inning where the home team committed two errors. Only one of those runs were earned runs charged to Perkin.
Perkin left after the fourth as the Mustangs had a 3-2 lead. Perkin finished the outing with just one earned run on four hits with five strikeouts.
A 3-2 score must excite Garcia. Each of his three game-winning hits gave the O's a 3-2 victory.
So, when the Osprey center fielder stepped up to bat in the fifth after Osprey backstop Tim Fisher singled the Lindborg-Cregg faithful became anxious.
Garcia delivered by taking George deep and putting the O's back on top 4-3 for his first round tripper on the season.
Billings first baseman Jesse Gutierrez, who is second in the league in homers behind O's first baseman Jesus Cota, took a Mike Davis pitch out for a solo shot in the sixth to tie the game at four. It marked the first time that Davis had been scored upon in 9-2/3 innings of relief this season.
George allowed just one more hit and gave way to Steve Kelly after the sixth. Kelly made his second appearance after recently signing with the Mustangs' parent club, the Cincinnati Reds, following a successful season at Georgia Tech.
Kelly mowed down the Osprey in two innings of work, fanning five and not allowing a hit or a walk. Kelly was throwing to Billings catcher Bryan Prince, who was Kelly's battery-mate at Georgia Tech.
Missoula shortstop Kevin Brand's third error of the contest in the eighth inning allowed the Mustangs to pull ahead 5-4 in the eighth and Billings got another off of Roberto Medina in the ninth on two doubles.
The O's wouldn't go down without a fight. Janz blooped a leadoff double to short left. Pinch hitter Kervin Jacobo flied to center and was followed by a Vugteveen whiff.
Hale then inserted Scott Hillinski to pinch hit. Hillinski, who was sent down from Yakima and arrived in Missoula earlier in the day, slapped an RBI single on the first pitch of his at bat to bring the O's to within one. Garcia followed with his pop out to end the game.
Medina took the loss for the O's and dropped to 0-2.
The Osprey will look for their first win over Billings this season on Monday at 7:05 p.m. when they send Justin Wechsler (0-0) against Billings' Clint Collins (1-0).