FRESNO, Calif. — The most recent game of the Tacoma Rainiers’ season-long, five-game losing streak was not like the first four.
Unable to score more than one run in four consecutive games leading up to the Triple-A All-Star break, the Rainiers broke out for seven runs and 13 hits Thursday — only to see their normally reliable bullpen blow a lead and suffer an 8-7 defeat to the Fresno Grizzlies.
Tacoma has lost five consecutive games for the first time since August 2012. However, the Rainiers still cling to a one-game division lead over second-place Salt Lake.
Jesus Montero returned to the Rainiers’ lineup for the first time since suffering a torn meniscus May 29, and he immediately made his presence felt. His RBI triple off the wall in right-center field was the pivotal hit in a three-run first inning.
Tacoma starter Brandon Maurer made the lead hold up for a while, allowing one run in the first four innings.
The Rainiers took a 6-1 lead in the top of the fifth, connecting on five consecutive two-out hits. Brandon Bantz had a run-scoring triple during the inning — the apex of his 3-for-4 performance.
Maurer struggled to close out the fifth, allowing three runs before striking out Todd Linden with the bases loaded to escape with a 6-4 lead.
Stefen Romero doubled to open the sixth inning, later scoring on Rich Poythress’ second sacrifice fly of the game. Tacoma turned it over to the bullpen with a 7-4 lead.
Josh Kinney pitched a perfect sixth, but he allowed a pair of soft singles to open the seventh.
All-Star Brian Moran gave up doubles to the first two batters he faced in relief of Kinney, with the second one tying the score at 7.
Fresno took the lead in the eighth, when Gary Brown homered off Jonathan Arias. Brown’s liner barely cleared the top of the left-field fence, ricocheting off the front-row bleacher and back onto the field.
Heath Hembree set down Tacoma in order in the ninth to record his 20th save.
Injured major leaguers Franklin Gutierrez and Stephen Pryor joined the Rainiers to begin rehabilitation assignments. Both are expected to play Friday. ... The Rainiers temporarily will use a six-man starting rotation of (in order) Maurer, Taijuan Walker, Blake Beavan, Chance Ruffin, James Paxton and Andrew Carraway.
The second game of the Rainiers-Grizzlies series is at 7:05 p.m. Friday. The right-handed Walker (2-0, 0.56 ERA) will start against Fresno right-hander Yusmeiro Petit (4-4, 5.69). The broadcast will air on 850-AM.Mike Curto is the Tacoma Rainiers’ radio broadcaster.