The Tacoma Rainiers (0-1) dropped their first game of the year to the Sacramento River Cats (1-0) by a final score of 6-5 on Saturday night at Raley Field in Sacramento, California.
Rainiers starting pitcher Chris Heston tossed five innings and surrendered three earned runs on five hits in his first start of the year — the right-hander struck out nine batters and issued two walks.
Tacoma cracked open the season with a two-run top of the first inning. Freeman opened the attack with a leadoff single and advanced to second on a groundout by O’Neill. Gamel followed with an RBI single into center field to score Freeman, giving Tacoma their first run of the season. Third baseman Gordon Beckham pushed the lead out to 2-0 in the next at-bat with a lined double into left field.
Sacramento answered with a trio of runs in the bottom half of the first inning to quickly take the lead. The River Cats scored on an RBI groundout from Justin Ruggiano and a two-run double off the wall in left field by Austin Slater, giving the home side a 3-2 edge.
O’Neill grabbed the lead back for Tacoma in the top of the second inning, rocketing a three-run home run over the left-center field wall to put the Rainiers back on top, 5-3. It was the first Triple-A home run of O’Neill’s career after hitting 24 long balls with Double-A Jackson in 2016 and 32 for Advanced-A Bakersfield in 2015.
The River Cats took advantage of a pair of fielding errors by O’Neill and collected three hits to plate three runs and take a decisive 6-5 lead. Leadoff batter Jae-Gyun Hwang opened the inning by reaching base on an error and advancing to second. A single from Ruggiano and a strikeout by Kyle Blanks put runners on the corners with one out for Austin Slater.
A single into right field scored Hwang, and a second error by O’Neill scored Ruggiano, while Slater advanced to third base. Two batters later, Orlando Calixte lined an infield single to third base, scoring the River Cats winning run from third.
Right-hander Mark Lowe (0-1) took the loss for Tacoma after allowing three runs (one earned) in the eighth. Ryne Harper, making his Triple-A debut, struck out two over 1.1 innings of work out of the Rainiers bullpen.
Tacoma and Sacramento retake the field tomorrow, Sunday, April 9 with a first pitch set for 1:05 p.m. PT. The Rainiers will send right-handed pitcher Dylan Unsworth (0-0, -.--) to the mound for his first start of the year, facing off against River Cats righty Tyler Beede (0-0, -.--).
All tickets, group outings and suites packages for the 2017 season are available for purchase in person at the Cheney Stadium Box Office, online at www.tacomarainiers.com, or over the phone at (253) 752-7707. The most up-to-date news and notes about the Rainiers throughout the season can be found by following the Rainiers on Twitter (@RainiersLand) or liking the team on Facebook.