The Tacoma Rainiers have proved time and time again at Cheney Stadium that if you stick around until the end, something big will happen.
Stefen Romero and Justin Smoak hit RBI singles in the eighth to pull Tacoma within a run of the lead, and the bullpen produced a heroic stretch over the final innings.
But the Rainiers still lost to Iowa, 3-2, in their final home game of the season.
Whether it was Iowa starting pitcher Dae-Eun Rhee’s six scoreless innings, Tacoma’s inability to score when it needed to, or two missteps by Tacoma pitcher Andrew Gillheeney in the fifth, the result was still the same.
The two-run eighth was the only bright spot on offense in a night where the Rainiers went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and struck out 12 times.
“You have to hit in those situations,” Rainiers manager Roy Howell said. “We had two or three situations with a runner on third and less than two outs (where) we didn’t even put in play. Long, tough year, but you got to keep battling. We just didn’t swing the bats well.”
Romero — who seems to thrive in crucial situations at Cheney Stadium — drove in Julio Morban with a ground single to center that made the score 3-1.
Smoak capped his 3-for-3 day with a ground single to right to score Xavier Avery — who was pinch-running for Corey Hart, who reached base on a single — to close the gap to 3-2.
Gillheeney (3-11) cruised through four scoreless innings, yielding only two hits and two walks while striking out five.
The back-to-back home runs he allowed in the fifth were more of a shipwreck.
“I missed my spot on both pitches,” Gillheeney said. “I made a few mistakes and they made me pay for it. I was just trying to get our team back in the dugout.”
There was almost a third homer in the sixth, when Rafael Lopez launched a fly to the left field warning track. Morban dropped the ball when he collided with the wall and Lopez was awarded a double.
Iowa made the score 3-0 when Ryan Kalish roped an RBI double that landed near the right foul line.
It took Gillheeney 14 pitches to force Jae-Hoon Ha to ground out. Gillheeney exited after the out and finished his 52/3 innings pitched with six strikeouts. He yielded three earned runs, seven hits and two walks.
Reliever Blake Beavan closed out the inning with a strikeout.
Despite a leadoff triple by Hart and the bases loaded in the fourth, the Rainiers failed to score.
Smoak led off the seventh with a ground single to left, and advanced to second after Ketel Marte drew a one-out walk. But Iowa reliever Armando Rivero came in and retired Gabriel Noriega and Humberto Quintero to end the threat.
Reliever Lucas Luetge pitched a scoreless eighth while Todd Coffey threw three strikeouts in the ninth.
Nate Tenbrink and Ji-Man Choi struck out and Morban popped out to left field in the ninth to close out the game.
The Rainiers awarded players team awards prior to the game. Jesus Montero was awarded offensive player of the year, Gabriel Noriega was defensive player of the year, Logan Kensing received pitcher of the year, and Forrest Snow and Logan Bawcom were given the community service awards.
The Rainiers will play on the road against the Fresno Grizzlies at 7:05 p.m. Thursday. Right-handed pitcher Jordan Pries (9-7, 3.79 ERA) is scheduled to start for Tacoma against right-hander Jason Berken (10-9, 4.68 ERA).