TUCSON, Ariz. — A miracle comeback in the ninth inning would have been a pretty neat birthday gift for Tacoma Rainiers manager John Stearns – and he nearly got it Wednesday night in Tucson.
Trailing 5-1 entering the ninth, Tacoma scored two runs and had the bases loaded with one out before falling to the Tucson Padres, 5-3.
It was a thrilling yet disappointing finish to a long travel day, which started with wake-up calls at 3:30 a.m. in Tacoma.
“The guys were digging in, trying to come back which impressed me a lot after the last 24 hours,” said Stearns, who turned 62. “With the amount of sleep we had and everything, to not quit in that game was a nice sign.”
Tacoma could not muster much offense against Padres starter Anthony Bass, who limited the Rainiers to one run on five hits through the first eight innings.
Meanwhile, Tucson plated five early runs against Rainiers starter Blake Beavan, including a run-scoring single by former Rainiers outfielder Mike Wilson in the third inning.
A pair of Tucson errors and a Franklin Gutierrez double started the Rainiers rally in the ninth. When pinch-hitter Abraham Almonte singled in Gutierrez to make it 5-3, the Rainiers had the tying runners in scoring position and the go-ahead runner at first base with one out.
Tucson reliever Kevin Quackenbush struck out Jason Jaramillo and Joe Dunigan to end the game.
“We got it right there in the ninth where I thought we were going to get it done,” said Stearns. “We needed one big hit to come all the way back from a 5-1 deficit.”
Tacoma (70-62) remains four games behind first place Salt Lake, with 12 games remaining. The Bees visit Tacoma for a four-game series starting Monday.
Rainiers relievers Forrest Snow and Chance Ruffin combined to toss three scoreless innings in relief of Beavan, keeping the comeback hope alive.
Almonte was given the day off after starting 24 straight games. Stearns said he wanted to give Almonte a one-day rest before playing him in every game down the stretch. … Pitcher Brian Sweeney (elbow) is out for the season. He was placed on the disabled list Saturday. … Tucson native Tom Wilhelmsen is slated to pitch two innings in relief Thursday. No word on if he plans to visit his former employer The Hut – a tiki bar near the University of Arizona – after the game.
The second game of the five-game series is Thursday night at 7:05. Tacoma starts James Paxton (7-10, 4.26) against Tucson’s Robbie Erlin (7-3, 4.87).
Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Tacoma Rainiers