Jesus Montero leaped to his right, snaring a sharp chopper off the bat of Albuquerque Isotopes right fielder Tim Wheeler.
The Tacoma Rainiers first baseman shot a look toward third base, where Isotopes first baseman Ben Paulsen stood after a leadoff triple. He represented the tying run in the ninth inning of Friday’s game at Cheney Stadium, the Rainiers clinging to a one-run lead with one out.
Montero’s glance held Paulsen at third base before Montero sprinted and quickly slid his foot into first base, just ahead of Wheeler, to save a run and record the crucial second out of the inning.
It also wound up helping save the game, as Mayckol Guaipe coaxed a flyout from the next batter to preserve a 3-2 Rainiers victory before a crowd of 4,777.
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And it made a winner out of Rainiers starter Jordan Pries, who allowed two runs on two hits and struck out seven batters in 61/3 innings, becoming the first Tacoma pitcher to last past the sixth inning this season.
“Just trying to get ahead and keep the ball down,” Pries said. “I was elevating earlier in the season in my starts and my whole focus today was just get the ball down. It doesn’t have to be 120 percent effort, as long as it’s down and you get ground balls, and you get ahead of guys.”
One of Pries’ few mistakes came early, when Isotopes shortstop Cristhian Adames pulled a towering solo home run over the right-field fence with one out in the first inning.
But the Rainiers responded in the bottom half of the inning with a run of their own, produced by Carlos Quentin’s double to right-center field — his first hit since signing a minor league deal earlier this week — followed by a Montero RBI single.
And it was Montero who later gave Tacoma its first lead, singling Chris Taylor home from third base with one out in the fifth.
Meanwhile, Pries rolled. Albuquerque catcher Ryan Casteel led off the second inning with a single and a stolen base, but after a sacrifice bunt moved the runner to third, Pries coaxed a groundout and struck out Tim Smalling to end the threat.
That began a stretch in which Pries retired 15 of 16 batters faced — and the one baserunner he allowed only reached because of a third strike that got away from catcher John Baker.
Rainiers manager Pat Listach credited Pries and Baker — whose RBI single in the sixth scored Pat Kivlehan from second base and accounted for the winning margin — for mapping out their game plan in the dugout each inning.
“They had a game plan, they stuck to it and they executed it,” Listach said. “That was the reason he pitched into the seventh.”
Guaipe also pitched out of trouble in the seventh inning, when, after allowing the single that scored Albuquerque’s second run, he got Smalling to hit into an inning-ending double play with one out and runners on first and third.
Montero upped his batting average to .371 with his 2 for 4 effort at the plate. And he looks more comfortable at first base than he ever has, evidenced by that glove-save in the ninth inning, a play he might not have made a year ago.
“I didn’t learn too much about first base last year,” he said. “But this year, I pay more attention, being there every single day. It’s been more fun. It’s been more comfortable for me. Every day, I learn something new. It’s been fun.”
Said Pries: “It’s incredible. One of the best plays I’ve ever seen him make. (He) saves the game right there.”
Tacoma begins a four-game series at Sacramento on Saturday with a 7:05 p.m. game. The Rainiers starting pitcher is undecided since it is expected the Mariners will call up scheduled starter Roenis Elias (2-0, 8.04 ERA) to take the rotation spot of the injured Hisashi Iwakuma. Left-hander Braulio Lara (0-2, 8.78) is scheduled to pitch for River Cats.