MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The last time the Tacoma Rainiers played at AutoZone Park, they ripped 11 home runs during a three-game sweep of Memphis to win the 2009 Pacific Coast League championship.
That playoff series was a distant memory Friday as the Rainiers managed seven hits in a 3-1 series-opening loss to the PCL’s worst team.
Tacoma left 12 runners on base, including runners stranded in scoring position in each of the final three innings.
It wasn’t just a poor game offensively. The Rainiers (50-70) played one sloppy inning on defense, and it cost them dearly.
Tacoma took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when Darren Ford doubled and scored on a two-out single by Alex Liddi.
The slim lead held up until the bottom of the sixth inning when Tacoma starter Erasmo Ramirez lost his control.
Known for his ability to avoid walks, Ramirez surprisingly walked Steven Hill and Mark Hamilton consecutively to open the bottom of the sixth.
Asked to put down a bunt, Eugenio Velez hit one sharply back towards the mound. Ramirez threw to third base to force the lead runner, but the ball popped out of Vinnie Catricala’s glove and Hill was ruled safe, loading the bases.
Catricala thought he held the ball long enough for the out before dropping it, and he was ejected by umpire Joel Hospodka for protesting.
“I thought he held it long enough,” Tacoma manager Daren Brown said. “We had a couple of things go against us and got ourselves in a bit of a bind.”
Cedric Hunter followed with a run-scoring single, tying the game and ending Raimirez’s performance. Brian Sweeney came in from the bullpen with the bases loaded and nobody out, and walked Pete Kozma on a full-count pitch to force in the go-ahead run.
The Redbirds (45-75) scored one more run on a ground out by Adron Chambers for the final count.
Ramirez (4-3) was charged with three runs (one earned) in five innings. He struck out five and walked a season-high four.
“I didn’t think Erasmo was real sharp, obviously, with the walks,” Brown said.
Rehabilitating Mariners reliever Charlie Furbush made the trip to Memphis and is expected to pitch today. … Starting pitcher Danny Hultzen made the trip to Memphis. Brown would not say whether the No. 2 overall pick in 2011 will pitch on the trip.
The series in Memphis continues with a 4:05 (PDT) game today. Tacoma starts D.J. Mitchell (0-1, 1.50 ERA) against top St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect Shelby Miller (7-9, 5.25).Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Rainiers.