The Tacoma Rainiers’ first home game of the 2015 season started well and good.
There was a helicopter, Edgar Martinez, new uniforms, pace-of-play timers, familiar faces, new faces and a first-inning two-out run thanks to Jesus Montero, who has hit safely in each of the Rainiers’ first nine games.
But what followed after that was not so good.
James Jones left in the third inning and was sent to the hospital with a possible concussion, Mike Kickham walked seven batters in five innings — including back-to-back bases on balls with the bases loaded — and the Rainiers dropped their home opener 4-2 against the El Paso Chihuahuas on Friday in front of a sellout crowd of 6,787.
Martinez — who never played for the Rainiers, but did play for the then-Low-A Bellingham Mariners and 18 years with the Seattle Mariners — was dropped off from his helicopter ride in center field to throw out the first pitch.
“I thought it was the president coming in,” first-year Rainiers manager Pat Listach joked.
Then familiar faces Jones, Chris Taylor, and Jesus Montero — all who ended last season in Mariners jerseys — were introduced in their new-look Rainiers jerseys.
Former Mariner/Rainier Abraham Almonte was also introduced, except he was wearing an El Paso jersey.
Then the Rainiers scored their first Cheney Stadium run of the season with Montero’s two-out single to center field scoring Jones from third.
First-year Rainiers starter Mike Kickham — who made a pair of September appearances for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants last year — cruised through the first 22/3 innings before losing command.
He struck out Almonte for the second out of the inning, but Tommy Medica followed with a single to center field and Kickham then walked Brett Wallace to load the bases.
Kickham proceeded to walk the next two batters — plating a pair of runs as El Paso took a 2-1 lead. Kickham had a stretch of 11 consecutive balls before getting Ramiro Pena to line out and end the inning to prevent further damage.
But then more bad things. Jones singled in the bottom half of the inning, reached second on a groundout and took off for third when Taylor struck out for the third out. Jones slid head-first into third and his head appeared to collide with El Paso third baseman Brett Wallace’s knee.
Jones stayed down for a short while before being helped off and immediately taken to the hospital.
“He’s being checked out at the hospital now and we’ll hopefully know more tonight or tomorrow,” Listach said after the game.
El Paso scored two more in the eighth. Tacoma’s Chris Taylor, starting at shortstop for the fourth time this season after breaking his wrist in spring training, committed his first error of the season on a ground ball. Cody Decker followed with a home run to left off reliever Forrest Snow, a graduate of Lakeside High School in Seattle and former University of Washington pitcher, to push El Paso’s lead to 4-1.
Taylor led off the bottom of the ninth with a single and Montero followed with a double to right field. Patrick Kivlehan, the No. 4 prospect in the Mariners organization as ranked by Baseball America, plated Taylor on a sacrifice fly to right field and Montero hustled to third base.
John Hicks and Carlos Rivero then struck out to end the game.
“We’ve just got to find a way to get the big hits to win some of these close games,” Listach said.
Newly implemented pace-of-play changes in Triple A meant the Rainiers christened some time clocks. One was located behind each team’s on-deck circle and another was under the video board in left-center field. There were 20 seconds for each pitch and 2 minutes, 25 seconds between each half inning. … Stefen Romero missed his fourth consecutive game with tightness in his lower back.
Right-hander Mike Montgomery (0-0, 1.50 ERA) makes his first career start at Cheney Stadium for the Rainiers when they host El Paso at 5:05 p.m. Saturday. He’ll be opposed by righty Bryce Morrow (0-1, 1.80). The game will be broadcast on 850-AM.