Sitting three games behind Salt Lake after Tuesday night’s 7-1 win over the Bees at Cheney Stadium, the Tacoma Rainiers are the closest they have been to first place in the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific North Division since July 31.
“I think our guys are just starting to get excited about this possible pennant race (with Salt Lake),” Rainiers manager John Stearns said.
It didn’t take long for the Rainiers to score their first run.
In the first inning, catcher Mike Zunino tripled to deep center field with one out and scored on Nate Tenbrink’s groundout.
Zunino went 1-for-2 in his first minor league rehab game with the Rainiers. Zunino has been out for six weeks after breaking a hamate bone in his wrist July 26.
Though the Bees (76-62) tied the score in the third inning on Luis Jimenez’s RBI single, the Rainiers (73-65) were quick to counter.
In the bottom of the inning, the Rainiers scored on Rich Poythress’ two-run double to left off starter Billy Buckner (7-3) and Ji-Man Choi’s two-run home run to right off reliever Jeremy Berg.
Choi also had a two-run homer in the series opener Monday.
“Choi has got tremendous talent with the bat, and he’s starting to show it after a slow start,” Stearns said.
“He’s really coming around now. We’re seeing the real Choi.”
With two outs in the fifth inning, Tacoma’s Carlos Peguero launched the ball over the scoreboard for his 19th homer of the season.
Poythress added a solo shot to left in the eighth, his 13th homer of the season.
James Paxton produced another solid outing on the mound. Paxton struck out seven and allowed one unearned run and five hits in eight innings for his eighth win of the season.
Though Paxton stifled the Bees on Tuesday, Salt Lake has pounded him in previous outings. In two career starts against the Bees, Paxton allowed 11 earned runs while only striking out six batters.
“The last time I pitched against Salt Lake, I didn’t have the cutter working,” Paxton said. “Tonight, I did use the cutter. I think it threw them off a little bit.”
The University of Kentucky product is fourth in the PCL this season with 128 strikeouts.
Paxton and the rest of Tacoma’s pitching staff have combined to strike out a franchise-record 1,089 batters this season, breaking the previous mark of 1,079 set in 2001.
“Paxton looked like a future major leaguer tonight,” Stearns said.
The Rainiers send right-hander Andrew Carraway (6-7, 5.37 ERA) to the mound against Salt Lake left-hander Dontrelle Willis (1-1, 5.74) at 7:05 p.m. at Cheney Stadium. The game will be broadcast on 850-AM.