Rounding first base after roping a two-run home run over the right-field fence, Mike Freeman wildly pumped his fist in the air — the Rainiers needed that one.
“We’re fighting, battling right to the very end,” Freeman said. “To put us ahead, to give us a good chance to win, the emotion came out of me.”
Freeman’s homer broke a tie in the bottom of the eighth, as the Rainiers went on to beat Fresno, 5-3, on Tuesday night at Cheney Stadium.
The first-place Rainiers (77-60) have a bit more room to breathe at the top of the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Northern Division. Second-place Reno (74-64) lost to Sacramento on Tuesday night, giving the Rainiers a 3 1/2 game lead with six regular season games to play.
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Tacoma’s magic number to make the playoffs — a place the Rainiers haven’t been since 2010, when they played at Safeco Field during Cheney Stadium’s renovation — is three.
The buzz is getting louder.
Even Rainiers manager Pat Listach pulled up Reno’s score on his computer after Tacoma recorded the final out.
“We’re just trying to win one game at a time,” Listach said. “Everybody wants to go the playoffs, obviously. The fact that we’ve been in first place since day one? We want to stay there.”
The Rainiers have been at the top of their division since opening day. Reno crept within 2 1/2 games after taking four of five from Tacoma in their series last week.
“Any games they lose and any games we win, we gain ground,” Listach said. “It’s a good one to come back and win after they tied it up there. Pitching was really, really good tonight. When we get starting pitching like that, we should win games.”
Sam Giviglio (3-2, 3.83 ERA) pitched six innings, allowing two runs on five hits and striking out six. Lefty David Rollins picked up the win in relief, pushing him to 5-0 with a 3.48 ERA this season.
This after Tacoma’s starters combined for a 10.74 ERA during the previous six games.
Fresno, eliminated from playoff contention with the loss, evened it twice before Freeman’s homer — his third of the year, second with Tacoma.
“Just being in the playoff race, kind of scuffling here the last few days — to get that hit that put our team ahead, it’s just an emotional moment,” Freeman said.
Perhaps a bit more so for Freeman.
Arizona (Reno’s parent club) designated him for assignment at the end of July. He was batting .317 with 24 RBIs in 88 games. The Mariners claimed him off of wavers on Aug. 1.
Now, he’s at the top of a playoff race.
“I think it’s sweet any time you get to make the playoffs,” Freeman said. “… I’m excited to be with the guys in this locker room. We’re having a lot of fun right now.”
Tacoma and Fresno combined for four home runs. Danny Worth and Nolan Fontana each homered for Fresno, while Dan Vogelbach and Freeman cleared the fence for Tacoma. … Outfielder Mike Baxter, who has been rehabbing from a wrist injury, made his first appearance in Tacoma’s starting lineup since June 19. He was activated Tuesday after right-hander Tony Zych was placed on the seven-day disabled list. He went 0 for 3. … Stefen Romero — recently named to the 2016 All-PCL team along with Vogelbach — is day-to-day with an injury to his left hand after he was hit by a pitch Sunday. Rob Brantly (knee) was also absent from Tacoma’s lineup Tuesday.
Tacoma continues its series with Fresno at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday. The Rainiers will start righty Joe Wieland (12-6, 5.78), while right-hander Brady Rodgers (12-4, 2.91) will take the hill for the Grizzlies.