Tacoma Rainiers

Rainiers drop home finale to Chihuahuas

Daniel Vogelbach greets players as they come into the dugout in the third inning. The Tacoma Rainiers played the Iowa Cubs at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., on Saturday, June 16, 2018.
Daniel Vogelbach greets players as they come into the dugout in the third inning. The Tacoma Rainiers played the Iowa Cubs at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., on Saturday, June 16, 2018.

Apparently, the Tacoma left for Las Vegas a day early. The Rainiers offense sputtered, wasting a shut-down performance by the pitching staff, and El Paso escaped Tacoma with a 1-0 win.

Tacoma managed five hits — the same as El Paso — but never managed more than one per inning, and only had multiple runners on base once.

That was all the way back in the first, when a single and a pair of walks loaded the bases with two outs, but Seth Mejias-Brean grounded out to third, ending the threat.

The Rainiers, who lead all affiliated baseball in walks, didn’t draw another free pass on the night.

“Those go hand in hand,” Rainiers manager Pat Listach said after the game. “That’s what we preach on our side: pound the zone, and then when you get ahead of them, you make them chase out of the zone. That’s pretty much what they made us do today.”

The Chihuahuas weren’t much better, but in the second strung two hits together, with Ty France doubling and Shane Peterson knocking him home with an RBI single.

That proved to be all it took.

Christian Bergman allowed just the solitary run, but otherwise had a clean start, scattering four hits across 5 ⅔ innings and striking out seven.

“He pitched really well there,” Listach said.

Four Tacoma relievers combined to keep the Chihuahuas on one run, though it wasn’t always pretty. Dan Altavilla had another rough outing in the top of the seventh, walking two batters before being pulled. It was the first of his five rehab appearances thus far in which he didn’t allow a hit or a run, but he still had control issues with his fastball, going to his slider for a strikeout on a full count.

“Sometimes it just takes one little slider or one curveball to get you back on your release point,” Listach said.

Justin Grimm came in and needed just one pitch to get the Rainiers out of the seventh, then struck out two in an easy eighth for his seventh consecutive scoreless outing. Chasen Bradford struck out one in a perfect ninth, and still hasn’t allowed a run in a Tacoma jersey.

Tacoma will hit the road for the final time in 2018 to end its season. The Rainiers will play three games in Las Vegas before meeting back up with the Chihuahuas for four in El Paso.

(Home) season wrap

Another season come, another season (almost) gone.

The Tacoma Rainiers played their final home game of 2018 Monday night. Already eliminated from playoff contention and with one final road trip, it’s time to begin putting a bow on this season and this team.

It would have to be a pretty large — and unique — bow.

Sure, there are plenty of characters in the clubhouse. Daniel Vogelbach may well be physically incapable of entering a room without shouting somebody’s name. One unnamed player back in June changed Gordon Beckham’s walk-up music to a song from Frozen. In his last home start on the hill, Casey Lawrence got Vogelbach to change his music — from a kid’s song to Finattiscz’ “Don’t Drop That Thun Thun.”

But as a unit, these Rainiers have formed a more unified, cohesive group than most teams in baseball. Just take it from the players and coaches themselves.

“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” manager Pat Listach said before Saturday’s game at Cheney Stadium. “Me, (Lance) Painter and (David) Berg try to create a culture where they can succeed and get along with each other and have fun and try to win some games.”

In the turbulent culture of the minor leagues, such a tight-knit, communal clubhouse can be hard to find, but it can also be a huge benefit, especially to newcomers to the organization and the level of play.

“It’s a good mix of veterans, and them helping out the younger guys and the guys that haven’t been there yet,” Seth Mejias-Brean said. “It’s a good group where we all gelled. Even though there were so many moving parts, it didn’t seem to affect us too much.”

Of the players on the 25-man roster Friday night, 15 were in their first season in Tacoma; nobody had been with the Rainiers more than two. But there’s just something different about the group that came together.

Back in July, Shawn Armstrong said that this was the first clubhouse he’d been a part of where position players and pitchers hung out together, and apparently, that never changed over the course of the summer.

“Everybody’s one here,” Tyler Higgins said. “It’s very unique in comparison with everywhere I’ve been over the past eight years. Everybody’s wild, everybody enjoys their time. There’s no real cliques or walls; it’s all within the same group of guys, and everybody’s doing everything for one purpose.”

Well, OK. There is one clique: The Fortnite clique.

Vogelbach is a member. So is Ian Miller, quite possibly the best player in the clubhouse. Andrew Aplin gets in on the Fortnite sessions, as well as Gordon Beckham, and some others. Even hitting coach David Berg and John Andreoli, now playing three-hours ahead in Baltimore, play the game.

“Even guys that don’t play, they still get in on it, poking the bear and getting them fired up,” Higgins said.

Higgins himself doesn’t get in on the video game action; he says he doesn’t even own a console. As a fan of the clubhouse rivalry, though, he’s sticking with Berg. According to Miller, that’s a bad pick.

“He’s terrible,” Miller said. “But he’s a good camaraderie guy.

“It’s team bonding, staying up until 4 a.m. every night.”

With the Sept. 1 call-ups approaching, many on the roster will be getting marching orders to Seattle. But in the short time until then (and even after come the offseason), this group will remain one of the closest-knit in affiliated baseball.

“It’s a bunch of great dudes,” Miller said. “We all have the same interest, and when we’re not hanging out here in the clubhouse, we’re probably hanging out off the field somewhere.”