For the first few innings, Tacoma Rainiers fans had little cheer for but a few long fly balls that ended up in Omaha gloves, and the Little Caesers mascot who beat Rhubarb in a race around the bases to earn everybody a free order of crazy bread.
But about the middle of the game Saturday night at Cheney Stadium, it was as if the Rainiers woke up.
Tacoma’s designated hitter Rob Brantly bashed a two-run homer in the seventh to take the score to a Rainiers win with the final margin of 3-2. Tacoma (21-15) had its pitching toughen up, too, surrendering nothing more than a walk to the final 17 Storm Chaser batters.
Rainiers manager Pat Listach thought the “wake up” assessment was accurate.
“Tough travel day with extra innings last night in Fresno,” Listach said, his eyes red from lack of sleep. “Guys were working on 2 or 3 hours of sleep, so this turns into a mental day.
“Your body isn’t feeling right, and you’re uncomfortable, so you have to focus on doing everything right — that’s the definition of mental toughness, and these guys have it.”
That was especially so of Brantley, who knows Mike Zunino is going to get most of the starts at catcher. So Brantly has to be sharp in those times when Zunino needs rest and if he can get to the plate as a designated hitter.
“You have to stay ready as you can and when you get the chance, leave everything on the field,” Brantly said, who also homered in the game Friday against Fresno.
When Brantly was on the field, warming up pitchers between innings, he talked to the umpire about having to play on limited sleep.
“I told him that when we have a short night like that,” he said, “we’re a back-nine team — we may start slow but we’ll get them on the back-nine.”
Omaha (20-15) made a lot of contact early, scoring runs in each of the first two innings, and making things tough for Tacoma starter Joe Wieland, who came into the game with a bulging 10.58 ERA.
But after giving up seven hits in the first four innings, he shut down the Storm Chasers, as did Casey Coleman, who relieved Wieland for two hitless innings to get the win. Blake Parker added a hitless ninth for his seventh save of the season.
“The key to this team is the starting pitching,” Listach said. “When they go deep, we win the game. For the starter to go six (innings) and keep us in the game the way he did, that allowed us to come back and win.”
The win, in front of a sellout crowd of 6,295, leaves the Rainiers in first place in the Pacific Northern Division.
The Rainiers are 12-4 at Cheney Stadium this season. Saturday’s game was the first in a stretch of 16 interconference games against the PCL American Conference. ... Left fielder Dario Pizzano went 1 for 3 to extend his hitting streak to eight games, the longest stretch on the team.
The Rainiers host the Storm Chasers at 1:35 p.m. Sunday. Probable pitchers are right-hander Brooks Pounders (3-1, 3.41 ERA) for Omaha faces off against Rainiers right-hander Cody Martin (4-2, 6.37).
Dave Boling: @DaveBoling