TUCSON, Ariz. — It took one big inning by the Tucson Padres for the Rainiers’ playoff hopes to feel like they are slipping away.
Tacoma took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday night, only to see Tucson score five runs and claim a 6-4 victory.
The loss was the fourth in a row for Tacoma, which fell five games behind first-place Salt Lake with nine games remaining. The Padres won their sixth straight.
Even a four-game series sweep of Salt Lake when it comes to Tacoma on Monday would leave the Rainiers in second place – unless the Rainiers can gain a game on Sunday, the final game of the Tucson series.
It didn’t appear as if it would come to this. Tacoma starter Hector Noesi had one of his best outings of the season, holding Tucson to one run on three hits through six innings.
Tacoma used two big hits to build a 4-1 lead. Nate Tenbrink launched a two-run homer to right field off Tucson starter Burch Smith in the fourth, and Jason Jaramillo pulled a two-run double off Tucson reliever Tommy Layne in the seventh.
Then the seventh-inning stretch seemed to wake up the Padres.
Noesi had thrown 95 pitches through six innings, but he had retired nine straight batters so he was sent out to begin the seventh. Jonathan Galvez and Cody Decker greeted him with hits, but Noesi struck out Chris Robinson.
Tacoma manager John Stearns brought in Brian Moran to face Reymond Fuentes, and the speedster legged out a weak grounder for an infield hit, driving home a run. Daniel Robertson followed with a bloop single, loading the bases for Brandon Allen.
Allen pulled a hard grounder into right field to score two runs and even the game, 4-4.
Josh Kinney was summoned to face Mike Wilson, and the former Rainiers outfielder struck again. This time it was a line-drive single to left field that scored Robertson with the go-ahead run.
Tucson added an insurance run when Rainiers first baseman Ji-Man Choi misplayed Scott Moore’s ground ball for an error, allowing Allen to score.
Tacoma put the tying runners on base with one out in the eighth, but Layne struck out Tenbrink, and Kevin Quackenbush struck out Carlos Triunfel to end the inning.
After missing eight games with a knee problem, Stefen Romero returned to Tacoma’s lineup and went 1-for-4. … The San Diego Chicken made one of just two 2013 appearances for the semiretired mascot.
The Rainiers play their final road game of the 2013 season on Sunday night at 7:05. Tacoma starts Taijuan Walker (4-3, 3.86) against Tucson’s Sean O’Sullivan (7-4, 3.88).Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Tacoma Rainiers.