POCATELLO — For more than a month, Chris Needham went into temporary retirement as he rehabilitated a hurt elbow.
He resumed his career Friday and helped keep the Gate City Grays' season alive.
Needham pitched a complete game in the Grays' 7-2 home win against the Smithfield Blue Sox at Halliwell Park, sending the best-of-tree Northern Utah League playoff series to Saturday's deciding Game 3. The right-hander leaned on his changeup to strike out 11 Smithfield batters in his first game with the Grays since June 29.
"I finally felt like (my elbow) has been good, so I decided why not," Needham said. "It's playoffs."
Needham's dominating performance was needed for the Grays (17-15), whose season was on the brink of ending after Thursday's 18-8 loss in Game 1 at Smithfield. Both of the runs scored against Needham were due to Gate City errors, and the only walk he gave up was with two outs in the sixth inning. The Blue Sox mustered four hits.
He struck out the side in the third, and recorded two strikeouts in the first, second, fifth and sixth frames.
Needham threw 88 pitches, 69 strikes. He never threw more than four balls in an inning. He said Smithfield jumps on fastballs, so he utilized curveballs and changeups to keep the Blue Sox's hitters off balance.
"My changeup's my bread and butter," he said. "That's the best pitch I have, and I feel like if you're going to beat me, that's what you have to hit. I was fortunate enough to get a lot of swings and misses with it tonight."
At the plate, the Grays got hits from seven of nine starters, plus Austin Losser off the bench. KC Qualls doubled to the left-center field gap in the first to plate two Grays baserunners for a 2-1 lead, Trent Cooper chipped in a sacrifice fly in the fourth to make it 3-1, and four runs came across in the fifth to bolster Gate City's lead.
PHOTOS: Grays vs. Blue Sox
In the Grays' fifth, Braden Palmer singled in the first run before Hayden Foltz singled to drive in two more. Brandon Long capped the scoring with a sacrifice fly.
Nick Winters, Payton Higgins, Palmer, Losser and Foltz started the frame with five consecutive singles — including bunt singles by Higgins and Losser.
A night after seeing their 8-3 lead evaporate into an 18-8 drubbing, the Grays extended their lead throughout Friday's game and maintained it with timely hits, pitching and plays in the field.
"The biggest difference is tonight, we did the little things well," Grays manager Trent Seamons said. "We made the routine plays. At the plate, we swung at good pitches and we battled and you see a difference in confidence.
"And certainly, having Needham up there, that raises the guys' confidence."
Foltz and Qualls each finished 2 for 3 with a double and two RBIs to help the Grays beat Smithfield (18-11) for the first time since June 29 — Needham's last outing. Smithfield had won the previous three head-to-head meetings.
And while Needham's heroics didn't necessarily permanently revive his baseball career, they reminded him that he's still got it. Seamons knew it and brought his old friend out of retirement — at least temporarily.
"About a month ago when I told (Seamons) I felt like I was done, he said I don't think you are," Needham said. "There's nothing like coming out here and competing. The juices just flow, adrenaline flows, the crowd, the atmosphere.
"I think it's safe to say as long as I can keep doing it, then I'll probably be around."
Game 3 is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Smithfield. Hyrum beat Providence 10-0 on Friday to send that series to a deciding Game 3.
GATE CITY 7, SMITHFIELD 2
Smithfield 100 000 1 — 2 4 0
Gate City 200 140 x — 7 10 3
Smithfield — LP: Coughlin.
Gate City — WP: Needham. 2B: H. Foltz, Qualls.