The Tacoma Rainiers lost the final game of the season against the Fresno Grizzlies on Monday afternoon, but it didn’t leave a sour aftertaste.
A six-run fifth inning propelled the Grizzlies to a 9-5 victory over the Rainiers in the Pacific Coast League finale for both teams.
Tacoma finished four games over .500, with a final record of 74-70.
The winning record seemed rather unlikely after a dismal stretch in May that saw the team lose 21 out of 26 games. Tacoma bottomed out June 11, falling 13 games under .500.
“They really worked hard,” Rainiers manager Roy Howell said. “We did have a tough stretch there in May — we had injuries, we had a lot of things going on, we really had to hang in there and keep the ship from sinking.”
Not only did the ship stay afloat, it morphed into a high-priced boat. Tacoma went 48-31 over the final 79 games.
“I only asked them to go out there and play hard every day,” said Howell. “They took that challenge, and I’m very proud of every one of them.”
The Rainiers appeared on their way to a 75th win when they scored three runs in the top of the third inning against Fresno starter Chris Heston.
Shortstop Ketel Marte singled in John Hicks, center fielder Xavier Avery scored on a throwing error, and first baseman Ji-Man Choi drove in Marte with a long double to center.
Tacoma starter James Gillheeney allowed one run over the first four innings before leaving the game with a left foot injury.
Jordan Pries was summoned from the bullpen to pitch the bottom of the fifth, protecting a 3-1 lead. It was the first relief appearance since 2011 for Pries, who made 24 starts for Tacoma this season and entered the game with the sixth-best earned run average in the PCL.
Pries allowed a leadoff double to second baseman Brandon Hicks before getting two quick outs.
But catcher Trevor Brown singled just beyond the reach of third baseman Ty Kelly, center fielder Gary Brown hit a long triple to tie the game, and left fielder Darren Ford beat out a seemingly routine grounder to third for an infield single to give Fresno a 4-3 lead.
Pries then walked first baseman Mark Minicozzi, and third baseman Adam Duvall launched a home run to center.
All told, six runs scored in the inning — all with two outs for the Grizzlies. Pries (9-8) saw his ERA balloon from 3.69 to 4.06.
The Rainiers open the 2015 season on the road in El Paso on April 9. The home opener will be April 17 against the Chihuahuas.