As Mike Baxter sent the final fly ball into the night, watching it curl to right center, he wasn’t sure how to assess it.
Deep enough to get out of cavernous Cheney Stadium?
“I hoped,” he said with a smile.
Baxter’s three-run home run — his second homer of the night — with two outs in the ninth inning lifted the Tacoma Rainiers to a 7-5 victory over the Omaha Storm Chasers on Monday night.
Baxter lifted Malcom Culver’s 2-2 slider in just about the same spot he had homered to in the second inning.
It was Baxter’s second career walkoff home run. The last time came in the 2014 season for Albuquerque when his solo shot in the 10th inning beat Salt Lake, 3-2.
“That is always fun,” Baxter said.
Starting pitcher James Paxton, who has been lights-out for most of May, had one bad inning, giving up five runs in the second.
With his fastball clocked as high as 98 mph, Paxton easily sat down the Storm Chasers in order in the first inning.
Rainiers manager Pat Listach said the tall left-hander had as good a stuff as he’s had all season.
“That second inning, he got behind guys (in the count),” Listach said.
Omaha wasn’t getting cheap hits either. Its hitters totaled four extra-base hits, capped by Whit Merrifield’s two-run home run to give the visitors a 5-0 advantage in the second.
Still on a pitch count, Paxton exited after four innings. He gave up six hits, but struck out eight in his 80-pitch outing.
Baxter’s solo blast off Omaha starter Christian Binford in the bottom of the second cut it to 5-1.
And the Rainiers kept plugging away. They had the tying run at the plate in each of the final five innings.
They trailed 5-3 heading to the ninth. Luis Sardinas, who was optioned down to Tacoma from the Mariners on Saturday, led off with a double and scored on Chris Taylor’s RBI single to left.
Efren Navarro reached on an error to give the Rainiers two runners with no outs — and the big boppers coming up.
Stefen Romero flied out to left field for the first out.
Mike Zunino just missed out on a home run, flying out to center field for the second out.
Baxter came up, sent one out — and sent the fans home happy. It was the second multi-homer game of his career.
“It was a good ninth inning,” Baxter said. “In our lineup, we have a lot of guys who can hit, so we are always in the game.”
The Tacoma pitching staff recorded 14 strikeouts, a season high. … Listach said Sardinas will serve in a similar utility role as Shawn O’Malley, who was called up Saturday to the Mariners, playing the middle infield and outfield. Sardinas started in left field and had three hits. … Asked what he thought about Texas’ Rougned Odor’s punch to Toronto’s Jose Bautista on Sunday, Listach, a former Milwaukee second baseman, said, “that guy (Odor) had to do what he had to do.”
The Rainiers and Omaha wrap up their four-game series 11:35 a.m. Tuesday with right-hander Adrian Sampson (4-2, 3.05 ERA) going for Tacoma against Luke Farrell (2-0, 3.73) for the Storm Chasers. The game will be broadcast on 850-AM.