Tacoma shortstop Tyler Smith went through quite an ordeal before the Rainiers persevered for a 6-5, 12-inning victory over El Paso in the opening game of the best-of-five Pacific Conference Finals.
Smith made two costly errors, including one in the bottom of the ninth inning that allowed the tying run to score.
He also had four hits, scored the go-ahead run in the top of the 12th from second base on Zach Shank’s single and recorded the final two outs when El Paso had the tying runner in scoring position.
“The pressure was on Smith today,” Tacoma manager Pat Listach said. “I’ve never seen him have a defensive day like that. I’ve got confidence in him.”
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Smith made just 10 errors during the regular season, playing mostly shortstop and second base.
It was a tense series opener as the Rainiers took a 1-0 series lead. Tacoma has assured itself at least of a split of the two road games, knowing it has home field advantage for the final three.
Tacoma had the lead from the second inning until the bottom of the ninth. Daniel Robertson’s two-out, two-run single in the second inning put the Rainiers in front, 3-0.
El Paso scored two runs against Rainiers starter Jarrett Grube, including a line-drive homer by Manuel Margot in the fifth.
The Rainiers added two runs in the top of the sixth. Smith hit a leadoff double and was doubled home by Rob Brantly. Brantly scored two batters later on a single by James Ramsey, making it 5-2.
Grube left with one out in the bottom of the sixth. El Paso scored later in the inning, when Smith dropped Jose Rondon’s two-out pop fly for an error to make it 5-3.
After two scoreless innings from reliever Emilio Pagan, Tacoma brought in Andrew Kittredge for the bottom of the ninth, protecting the two-run lead.
Nick Noonan and Margot hit back-to-back doubles on consecutive pitches, and it was 5-4 with the tying run at second and no outs. Kittredge struck out Carlos Asuaje and walked Hunter Renfroe, bringing up Austin Hedges.
Hedges hit a sharp one-hopper to second baseman Mike Freeman that looked like it would be a game-ending double play, but after getting the force at second, Smith’s relay to first sailed over the head of Dan Vogelbach and allowed Margot to score the tying run.
“That ninth inning — what a way for them to tie it up,” Listach said. “We haven’t played that way all year.”
The Rainiers rallied in the 12th when Smith singled with one out, Brantly did the same, and Shank pulled a liner to left allowing Smith to race home ahead of the throw with the go-ahead run.
Reliever Al Alburquerque earned the win, escaping an inherited jam in the 11th before getting the final outs in the 12th.
Renato Nunez homered and drove in five runs as Nashville beat Oklahoma City, 10-7, in the opener of the American Conference Finals. … The Rainiers made one roster move after the completion of the regular season on Monday. Outfielder Nori Aoki was recalled by Seattle, and Tacoma added utility infielder/outfielder Patrick Brady from Double-A Jackson. Brady hit .227 in 80 games for Jackson, while seeing action at five different positions.
Game 2 of the series is on Thursday at 5:35 p.m. (PDT) in El Paso, before the series moves to Tacoma on Friday. Tacoma starts Cody Martin (10-7, 3.62 ERA) against El Paso’s Walker Lockett (1-2, 4.50).
Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Rainiers.