The Tacoma Rainiers had this one. They trailed by a run heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, but a pair of two-out hits in that frame plated four runs, and so their three-run lead felt secure as the top of the ninth commenced.
It wasn’t. Sacramento mashed two singles and two doubles and scored four runs against Tacoma reliever Mark Lowe, who took the loss in this deflating, somewhat stunning 6-5 defeat before a crowd of 2,322 on Monday night at Cheney Stadium.
The loss prevented Tacoma (14-9) from recording its first sweep of a five-game series in nearly eight years, and snapped a nine-game home winning streak.
“We finally put up a crooked number, and gave it right back to them,” Rainiers manager Pat Listach said. “It’s a tough loss when you go into the ninth with the lead, but it happens once or twice a year. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again.”
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Indeed, it seemed the Rainiers had taken control in the bottom of the eighth, when right fielder Zach Shank stepped to the plate with the bases full and two outs, his team trailing 2-1. He worked a full count, fouled off a pitch, then fouled off another, then ripped a sharp single into center field to plate two runs and give Tacoma a 3-2 lead.
Rainiers catcher Steve Baron followed with his own two-run single, capping a four-run inning that put Tacoma in position to win despite managing only two hits in the first seven innings. It was an unpleasant evening for River Cats right-hander Kyle Crick, who in two-thirds of an inning allowed four runs on three hits with two walks.
But it wasn’t great for Lowe, either. The 33-year-old right-hander first allowed a single to Sacramento second baseman Juan Ciriaco, then a one-out single to third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang, then a run-scoring double to left fielder Ryder Jones, then a game-tying, two-run double to first baseman Chris Marrero.
Lowe later hit a batter and walked the next to load the bases with two outs, the score tied 5-5. Listach summoned from the bullpen left-hander Nick Hagadone, who, facing his first and only batter, bounced a pitch in the dirt to allow Wynton Bernard, pinch-running for Marrero, to sprint home from third with the go-ahead run. The inning finally ended when Hagadone threw another pitch in the dirt that got away from Baron with runners on second and third, but Baron chased the ball down, tossed it to Hagadone, and the Rainiers’ lefty placed the tag on River Cats center fielder Austin Slater, bolting from third, just before he slid across home plate.
The Rainiers went down in order in the bottom of the ninth.
Listach said Baron was “disappointed in himself” for not blocking the pitch that led to Sacramento’s go-ahead run.
“It’s a tough situation to bring Hagadone in that situation, as well, against a righty,” Listach said. “His job in the big leagues is going to be to get lefties out, not righties, but we were down to him down there in that bullpen, and we had to bring him in.”
Tacoma scored its first run in the third inning. Center fielder Leonys Martin reached on an error, stole second base and scored on Mike Freeman’s two-out single.
The Rainiers led 1-0 until the sixth, when Marrero led off with a single against right-handed Tacoma reliever Ryne Harper, and designated hitter Justin Ruggiano drove Marrero in with a double to right field. Sacramento took the lead later that inning on shortstop Orlando Calixte’s two-out single, though Martin threw Slater out at home on the same play to prevent further damage and end the inning.
Rainiers starter Rob Whalen, making his 2017 debut after a stint on the disabled list, allowed six hits and struck out four in 4 2/3 scoreless innings. He threw 78 pitches.
Tacoma struggled against Sacramento right-hander Joan Gregorio, who struck out seven batters and allowed two hits in 5 1/3 innings pitched. And the River Cats out-hit the Rainiers by a substantial margin: 15 to 5.
Still, Tacoma had every opportunity to win.
“Would have loved to have won it after we had a three-run lead in the ninth,” Listach said. “Taking a three-run lead up 5-2, you kind of expect to win those. But every once in a while, they slip away from you.”
PLAY OF THE GAME: Despite the loss, Martin turned in the game’s most impressive play when he made a sliding, over-the-shoulder catch in center field of a fly ball hit by Sacramento third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang in the fifth inning.
PLUS: Shank’s eight-pitch at-bat with two outs in the eighth resulted in a two-run, go-ahead single, and Baron followed with another clutch hit. … Right-handed reliever Evan Marshall faced four batters and struck out three of them.
MINUS: In 1 1/3 innings of relief, Harper allowed two runs on four hits and a walk. He threw 35 pitches. … Lowe is now 1-2 with two blown saves and a 12.96 ERA in nine appearances this season. … O’Neill went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, though he did draw a walk to load the bases with nobody out in the eighth inning.
STAT PACK: Three of Tacoma’s five hits came with runners in scoring position, though the Rainiers still stranded seven runners on base. All of their RBIs came with two outs.
QUOTABLE: “His velocity’s not where it was a couple years ago when he was here with us, but I think command’s got to be a little better than it was tonight. He’s been OK. He’s been good. He’s not the same guy that throws 97, like he did a few years ago, but he knows what he’s doing out there. He had a bad night.” — Listach on Lowe