MISSOULA -- With apologies to 1970s recording star Ricky Nelson, Kyle Smith is a traveling man who's made a lot of stops this year.
His fourth was something to sing about Sunday night.
Playing in his first game of the summer for the Missoula Osprey, the 6-foot-4 first baseman used heroics with the bat and glove to lift his team over the Helena Brewers, 6-5, at Ogren-Allegiance Park. Smith broke a 5-5 tie with a towering home run in the eighth and made a nifty catch near the O's bullpen to end the game.
Smith started the year with the Kane County Cougars, then went to extended spring training for the Arizona Diamondbacks, then on to Hillsboro (Oregon) before flying into Missoula on Saturday night. Though he'd love to be heading to The Show like anyone in his position, he calls Ogren-Allegiance Park "one of the better spots to play in all of minor league baseball."
"Coming off the field tonight definitely ranks up there with my highlights of the year," said the former Vanderbilt star, who also played in Missoula last summer. "Any time you can help your team win in a manner like that it's definitely a great feeling."
Smith's first pitch fastball home run in the eighth off Brandon Texiera drew a lot of oohs and aahs, but his catch to end the game was even more spellbinding. He blamed himself for Helena baserunner Franly Mallen reaching third base after he misplayed a pickoff throw, so he was determined to do whatever it required to catch Dallas Carroll's foul ball as he fell onto the bullpen bench.
"As soon as it went up in the air I said to myself, 'I've got to make this play because I cost us that baserunner on third," said Smith, who donned old-school striped socks for the game and plans to stick with them as long as possible. "I wanted to be the guy with the ball in my glove at the end of the game right there."
Smith wasn't the only hero for the Osprey, who snapped Helena's six-game winning streak. The O's also benefited from gutsy pitching by starter Brady Muller and relievers Nestor Ramirez and Abraham Almonte.
The Montana-raised Muller survived a rocky fourth inning and left the game after six frames with his team on top, 5-4. Ramirez (2-0) surrendered the tying run in the seventh but then worked his way out of a jam. Helena had the go-ahead runner at third with no outs but couldn't get him home.
Almonte found himself in a similar situation with the potential tying run at third and no one one out in the ninth. He came through with two strikeouts before Smith's catch in foul territory to end the game.
"To not let that rattle you and do what he did, it obviously tells you that he's got some good composure," Osprey skipper Mike Benjamin said of Almonte.
After a humbling loss to Helena on Saturday, the Osprey went right to work against the Brewers in 90-degree weather Sunday. Gabriel Maciel laced a leadoff single and scooted to second when the ball was misplayed by left fielder Jay Feliciano.
The O's exploded for four runs in the second off starting pitcher Michael Petersen, who seemed to get rattled after Ernie De La Trinidad lined a ball off his leg for an infield single. Petersen then hit Brandon Leyton with a pitch and surrendered a single to Maciel to load the bases.
Keshawn Lynch capitalized with a two-RBI single and Luis Lara followed with a two-RBI double.
Helena answered in the fourth, with 5-foot-3 Jose Gomez hitting his second grand slam in less than 24 hours. Muller regrouped and finished up a six-inning night with three strikeouts.
The Brewers scored a run in the seventh when Ramirez threw the ball away on a toss to first with a runner aboard. He bounced back nicely, coaxing an infield pop fly and striking out two to end the inning with the score knotted at 5-5.
Missoula (6-8) moved into a tie with Great Falls for third place in the Pioneer League standings. Helena (7-7) sits in second place behind the Billings Mustangs.