Thursday was “Star Wars Night” at Cheney Stadium, a promotion replete with space-inspired sound effects, costume contests and customized game jerseys in honor of the George Lucas film franchise.
The glow of toy lightsabers, sold inside for $6.99 apiece, provided a unique backdrop as the Tacoma Rainiers played against the New Orleans Zephyrs.
But the baseball wasn’t much different than it was during the first two games of this series. The Rainiers won, 6-1, before a crowd of 5,399 to give themselves a chance to earn their first sweep of the season when these teams meet for the series finale Friday.
The Rainiers (25-30) have won six of their past seven games, and through the first three games of the current series against New Orleans, Tacoma has outscored the Zephyrs, 23-4, and hit six home runs.
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Two of those were hit by second baseman Shawn O’Malley, who pulled a pitch over the right-field fence for a two-out, two-run homer during a four-run sixth inning Thursday that helped put the game out of reach.
O’Malley, who has upped his batting average to .273 this season, has two hits in each of Tacoma’s past three games.
“His hard work’s finally paying off and he’s starting to see some results,” Rainiers manager Pat Listach said. “Guys have been busting their tails trying to get their offense going, and he’s one of them.”
O’Malley, a 27-year-old from Richland, said he’s trying to change his strike zone and make contact with the ball earlier, instead of letting pitches get too deep on him before he swings.
“It’s nice that it’s finally coming around,” he said, “and I’m building some confidence at the plate.”
The Zephyrs scored first thanks to Derek Dietrich’s fourth-inning homer against Rainiers starter Forrest Snow. The right-hander found trouble in every inning except the third, but still allowed only one run despite yielding seven hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings.
Aside from Dietrich’s homer, New Orleans stranded all eight runners who reached base against Snow.
“He’s usually a strike-thrower. He usually throws more strikes,” Listach said. “But he threw just enough tonight to get the win. ... Without his best stuff, he was still able to go out and keep us in the game, which was really nice.”
Tacoma tied the game in the fourth on Patrick Kivlehan’s RBI single, and took a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning when Carlos Rivero drove in O’Malley with a sacrifice fly.
Then they blew it open in the sixth. Chris Taylor started the inning with a single, James Jones followed with a double, and Taylor scored on a wild pitch. Jones later scored on a throwing error by the catcher, who accidentally spiked the ball into the ground in an attempt to throw out Stefen Romero, who was trying to steal second base.
The ball trickled harmlessly away, Jones raced home easily, and O’Malley followed with a two-run homer.
“I don’t know where the power’s coming from,” Listach joked of O’Malley, whose two homers in this series are his first of the season. “But he’s putting some good swings on the ball. It’s nice to see.”
Tacoma and New Orleans conclude their four-game series with a 7:05 p.m. game Friday at Cheney Stadium. Left-hander Tyler Olson (no record) is scheduled to start for the Rainiers against left-hander Adam Conley (4-2, 3.09 ERA), the former Olympia High School star, for the Zephyrs.