There were two outs. There was nobody on base. There were two strikes on Albuquerque Isotopes catcher Dustin Garneau, his team trailing the Tacoma Rainiers by one run in the top of the ninth on Sunday afternoon at Cheney Stadium.
But with Tacoma just one strike away from victory, Garneau instead struck a solo homer over the left-field fence against Rainiers reliever Blake Parker, tying the score in a game the Isotopes eventually won, 4-2, after they scored three times in the top of the 12th inning.
The decisive blow came off the bat of Albuquerque right fielder Jordan Patterson, a two-run double off the right-center field fence against Tacoma reliever Andrew Kittredge with two outs in the 12th. Left fielder Stephen Cardullo followed with an RBI single.
Tacoma did score once in the bottom of the 12th, on Daniel Robertson’s second sacrifice fly of the game. But catcher Rob Brantly popped out to third base, and right fielder Stefen Romero grounded out to pitcher Brian Schlitter to end the game.
“It’s a tough one to lose,” Rainiers manager Pat Listach said. “As good of a win as (Saturday) night’s game was, today was just as tough of a loss.”
It appeared as if Robertson’s first sacrifice fly might hold up as the game’s lone run. With one out and runners on first and third in the bottom of the seventh, Robertson lifted a fly ball to medium center field. Tacoma second baseman Zach Shank bolted for home as soon as it was caught. He slid and slapped home plate with his hand, ahead of the throw, to give Tacoma a 1-0 lead.
Rainiers reliever Emilio Pagan pitched a scoreless seventh and a scoreless eighth. But after Parker retired the first two Albuquerque batters in the top of the ninth, Garneau jumped on a 1-2 pitch and sent it over the wall in left field.
“I didn’t even ask Blake where the pitch was, where he was trying to go or anything,” Listach said. “Bottom line was, he hit it out. That was a crucial situation, one strike away from ending the game.”
Tacoma couldn’t score against Isotopes starter Christian Bergman, who allowed only three hits in six innings. Only two Rainiers runners advanced past first base against him.
In fact, the bottom third of Tacoma’s lineup was responsible for each of the team’s seven hits. No. 7 hitter Patrick Kivlehan went 1 for 5 with a single in the fifth. Shank went 2 for 5 with two singles, and shortstop Tyler Smith went 4 for 5, including a single into the left-center field gap that moved Shank to third in the seventh inning. Robertson followed with his sacrifice against Albuquerque reliever Shane Carle.
Right-handed starter Jarrett Grube pitched one of his best games in a Rainiers uniform this season. The 34-year-old threw six scoreless innings and allowed four hits, two of which were infield pop-ups that got lost in the sun. He also struck out five batters and walked one.
“He did a nice job,” Listach said. “Kept them off balance, put us in position to win the game. That’s what he does. He throws everything at you, everything he’s got.”
Prior to Garneau’s home run, Albuquerque’s best scoring opportunity came in the third inning, when Patterson hit a shallow pop-up that got lost in the sun and fell in for a single. Isotopes shortstop Joey Wong moved from first to third on the play. Cardullo followed with a line drive down the right-field line that landed just foul, then grounded out to second base to end the threat.
But the homer kept the game going, and the Isotopes finally broke through against Tacoma’s overworked bullpen.
“Good game to watch,” Listach said. “Bad game to be on this side of it, after being so close.”
Tacoma’s four-game series against the Isotopes continues with a 7:05 p.m. game Monday at Cheney Stadium. Seattle Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker, recovering from tendinitis in his right foot, is scheduled to pitch a rehab outing for the Rainiers. Walker has been on the disabled list since July 5. Listach said he’ll likely pitch four or five innings. Albuquerque will send right-hander Jeff Hoffman (5-8, 3.95 ERA) to the mound. The game can be heard on 850 AM.