Tacoma Rainiers fans were treated to a great team last year, getting to watch a championship squad that jelled in early June and rolled to the league title. It was a ton of fun, and ended up as one of the most successful teams in franchise history.
This year’s team hasn’t been as good – not yet, anyway – but last night in Sugar Land the team put together a comeback win that was the kind of game last year’s championship club would have won.
The Rainiers fell behind 3-0 in the first inning, when Sugar Land’s Yainer Diaz, playing in his second Triple-A game, launched a three-run homer off Justus Sheffield.
It was still 3-0 when we reached the bottom of the fourth inning. Sugar Land’s first two batters had hits, and runners were at second and third with no outs. It looked like Sugar Land was poised to open up the lead and possibly knock out Sheffield.
Sheffield had other ideas. He struck out Korey Lee, and then struck out Franklin Barreto. That brought former Rainiers outfielder Dillon Thomas to the plate, and we had our first game-changing moment: Thomas hit a low fly ball towards left-center, where after a long run Rainiers center fielder Marcus Wilson made a terrific diving catch to end the inning. The play saved two runs from scoring, keeping it 3-0. It was such a good play that Sheffield, instead of walking into the third base dugout, angled out toward the outfield to greet Wilson.
Sugar Land starter J.P. France pitched five shutout innings, but once he left the game the Rainiers hitters went to work. A patient approach against reliever Brett Conine led to a pair of runs in the sixth inning. Brian O’Keefe walked with one out, and Zach Green doubled him in to make it 3-1. With two outs both Joe Odom and Miguel Perez walked to load the bases, bringing up Mason McCoy. With a no balls, two strikes count Conine hit McCoy with a pitch, forcing in a run to make it 3-2. Jarred Kelenic followed by making solid contact, but hitting the ball directly to the right fielder for the final out of the inning.
Sheffield got one out in the bottom of the sixth, but there were two runners on base when he left the game. Enter the Rainiers bullpen, which did a fantastic job the rest of the way. Danny Young escaped the sixth inning jam, getting help from a nice sliding catch by left fielder Erick Mejia.
Young got one out in the seventh, leaving with a runner at first base in favor of Matt Festa. It took two pitches for Festa to get Lewis Brinson to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Our second huge moment in the game came with two outs in the top of the eighth inning, Rainiers still trailing 3-2. Twenty-one year old outfielder Miguel Perez, who just rejoined the Rainiers from the Arizona Rookie League to fill in while Forrest Wall has what is hoped to be a brief stint on the injured list, ripped a surprising solo homer to left-center to tie the game, 3-3.
Perez has homered twice for the Rainiers during his stints with the club, and both have been big ones. His first dinger was a three-run shot on May 13th at home against Reno that triggered an 8-6 comeback win for the Rainiers.
Festa quickly struck out the side in the bottom of the eighth inning – seriously, why is he here? – and we reached the ninth inning all tied up. Sugar Land brought in one of its best relievers, Ronel Blanco, to face the top of the Tacoma lineup.
Jarred Kelenic dug in at the plate. He got ahead in the count 2-1, and then pulled a line drive homer into the wind and over the right field wall for a go-ahead home run. It was Kelenic’s eighth home run in 28 games since being optioned to Tacoma.
The game wasn’t in the win column yet. Tacoma brought in veteran Matt Koch to try to nail down the save. He did, but it wasn’t easy, as Barreto and Thomas hit back-to-back singles with one out. Koch got Corey Julks and Enmanuel Valdez each to fly out, ending the ballgame with the tying and winning runners on base.
This was the type of game that the Rainiers of April and May would have lost. But things have been a lot better recently – the team is now 11-9 in the month of June – and this looked like the type of win a really good team gets.
We’ll see if it can continue tonight. The match-up looks bad on paper, with a Rainiers bullpen game going up against a very good rehabilitating major leaguer, but you never know what’s going to happen in these games.
YESTERDAY: Tacoma picked up an impressive 4-3 comeback win at Sugar Land last night, and took a 2-1 lead in the six-game series. Trailing 3-0 after five, the Rainiers scored two runs on walks and a Zach Green double in the sixth, tied it on Miguel Perez‘s homer in the eighth, and took the lead on Jarred Kelenic‘s ninth inning dinger. Starter Justus Sheffield overcame a first-inning three-run homer to go 5.1 innings, and the Rainiers bullpen of Danny Young, Matt Festa, and Matt Koch was nails.
TODAY: Tacoma Rainiers (28-40) at Sugar Land Space Cowboys (29-40), 5:05 (Pacific).
OPPONENT AFFILIATION: Houston Astros.
OPPOSING MANAGER: Mickey Storey.
SEASON SERIES: Sugar Land leads, 6-3.
PITCHERS: RHP Riley O’Brien (1-1, 6.32) at RHP Jake Odorizzi (–)
This is a bullpen game for the Rainiers (it was Tommy Milone‘s spot in the rotation, but he’s with Seattle now). Odorizzi is on a rehabilitation assignment, he hasn’t pitched since May 16 when he was carted off the field at Fenway Park with a left leg injury.
ROSTER MOVES: Yesterday the Mariners announced that reliever Roenis Elias cleared waivers and was outrighted to Tacoma. Today Tacoma is expected to add a pair of pitchers from the Arizona Complex League to serve as depth for the bullpen game: right-handers Gabriel Sosa and Colby Morris.
HOT HITTERS: Forrest Wall has reached base safely in 11 straight games, and he has a .409 on-base percentage so far this month… Sam Haggerty has reached base safely in his last 17 PCL games… Marcus Wilson has reached base safely in 14 straight games, netting at least one hit in 11 of them.
OPPONENT NEWS: Sugar Land had a seven-game winning streak end on Saturday in Round Rock, and then they lost on Sunday too… Corey Julks has a 12-game hitting streak, getting exactly one hit in each game. Does that qualify as a hot hitter? He’s 12-for-48 (.250 average) during the streak… the Space Cowboys have received a big lift from infielder Enmanuel Valdez, who was called up from Double-A (where he was batting .357) on June 7. He homered twice in his Triple-A debut and added a three-homer game last week at Round Rock… Sugar Land just acquired former Rainiers outfielder Dillon Thomas on a waiver claim from the Angels… Kent native Taylor Jones is currently rehabilitating a back injury with Sugar Land.
BROADCAST: All games will be broadcast free on a live audio stream which is available right here.
Unfortunately, there is no traditional terrestrial radio station carrying the games at this time.
PCL SCOREBOARD: Follow all league games in real-time with links to broadcasts and Gameday screens right here.
- The Mariners won yesterday in ridiculous fashion, finishing a three-game sweep of Oakland.
- Ty France had a scary looking injury in the game, but it may not be that serious.
- Meanwhile, catcher Tom Murphy is now out for the season.
- Here’s how Mariners reliever Casey Sadler is passing time while recovering from surgery.