The opening game of the Pacific Conference Finals was a wild, sloppy, and at times tedious affair that clocked in at 4 hours, 10 minutes in length.
But after the game, the Rainiers were all smiles after picking up a 10-8 come-from-behind victory to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
Game Two is tonight at Sacramento’s Raley Field, with the first pitch set for 7:05 pm. The game airs live on 850 AM and streams via www.tacomarainiers.com, with the pre-game show starting at 6:50.
The playoffs got off to an ugly start for Tacoma. Control pitcher Andy Baldwin walked three batters in the first two innings, and the Rainiers made two errors on routine plays leading to four unearned runs. Tacoma trailed Sacramento, 7-1, going to the third. It looked like the Rainiers were done before even getting started.
But Tacoma hitters put together quality at-bat after quality at-bat against RiverCats starter Clayton Mortensen. The 13-game winner did not have his good stuff or his typical control, walking batters and getting himself in trouble.
With the score 7-2 in the top of the fourth, Greg Halman launched a three-run homer deep over the left-field fence, and suddenly Tacoma was back in the game.
Meanwhile, the Rainiers were getting excellent relief work from Ian Snell and Anthony Varvaro. Snell, who was activated before the game (Steven Shell was placed on the disabled list with elbow tenderness, opening a roster spot), pitched shutout ball in the third and fourth innings. Varvaro entered and went three innings, giving up just one run, but the Rainiers still trailed 8-6 after six innings.
Tacoma tied it in the seventh when former Rainiers lefty Travis Blackley walked Dustin Ackley and Halman consecutively to open the inning. David Winfree singled in a run with one out, and with runners at the corners, Mike Carp grounded softly to first – softly enough for the tying run to score. I’ve never seen anybody as happy as Carp about grounding out to first base – but Blackley is not a good match-up for Carp, he had two strikes, and he was still able to put the ball in play and bring home the tying run.
Neither team scored in the eighth, and the Rainiers went to work in the top of the ninth.
Matt Mangini opened the inning by grounding a single to center field, and Jeff Dominguez pinch-ran for him – it turns out that Mangini has a tight quad and may not start today. With one out, Carp grounded a single through the hole between first and second, sending Dominguez to second base.
Then things got weird. With switch-hitting Justin Smoak batting, we all thought Sacramento manager Tony D would bring in right-handed reliever Fernando Hernandez, who was ready in the bullpen, and turn Smoak around to his weaker side. Instead, the tiring Blackley stayed in and threw two straight balls to Smoak – and then, with the count 2-0, Tony D went to the mound and brought in Hernandez. Of course, Smoak turned around, batted left-handed, and lined the first pitch to left field for a single, loading the bases.
Brad Nelson was next, and he pulled a solid line drive down the right-field line for a two-run double, and the Rainiers had their first lead of the game, 10-8.
Scott Patterson earned the win for Tacoma. Patterson pitched perfect relief in the bottom of the eighth and ninth innings, striking out Anthony Recker on a full-count pitch to end the game.
Some facts about the game:
- The game was 3 hours, 56 minutes old – and it was 11:16 pm – when the Rainiers took their first lead.
- Sacramento pitchers walked 12 Tacoma batters. The RiverCats led the PCL in issuing walks during the regular season.
- The Rainiers left the bases loaded in the second, third, and fifth innings.
- Tacoma stranded 17 baserunners on the night – and still won.
- Justin Smoak reached base six times, with two singles and four walks.
- A total of 411 pitches were thrown.
- It rained during the second and third innings, but there was no delay.
- The Rainiers managed to win the opener without using top relievers Dan Cortes and Josh Lueke.
The pitching match-ups for tonight will be RHP Blake Beavan (2-2, 6.47) for Tacoma, against Sacramento RHP Travis Banwart (4-2, 4.81).
Beavan has never faced Sacramento before. The 21-year-old struggled in his final three outings and hopes to bounce back today – he’s looked fatigued on the mound and he’s thrown a career-high 168 innings, but he got an extra day off before today’s start. Beavan was named the Texas League Pitcher of the Year for his work with Class-AA Frisco before being traded to the Mariners.
Banwart made a start and a relief appearance against Tacoma this year, taking the loss in both games. Banwart allowed seven earned runs in 6.2 innings between the two appearances. Banwart, 24, was the Oakland A’s 4th round draft pick in 2007 out of Wichita State University.
Some PCL playoff links:
- Here is the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune. The final out came at 11:30 pm – exactly one hour after the paper’s deadline to submit a story. Hence no quotes or reaction, which stinks, of course.
- The Sacramento Bee is covering the series as well, the story updates the status of injured RiverCats Chris Carter and Josh Donaldson. Also, they have photos! (yes, Rickey Henderson really was here last night).
- In the American Conference playoffs, the Memphis Redbirds used the longball to beat Oklahoma City and take a 1-0 series lead. Joe Mather had a big game. Former Rainiers infielder Kevin Howard was released by Memphis – he had been on the suspended list; I don’t know why.
- From Iowa, manager Ryne Sandberg is gearing up for his big interview.
- As usual, tons of good info in the weekly Mariners Minor League Wrap at USS Mariner.
- Two intelligent bloggers are trying to get to the bottom of the Greg Halman strikeout issue.
Now, we want you to come to the Rainiers playoff games at Safeco Field this weekend, starting with Friday night’s Game Three at 7:00. To get tickets, call 253-752-7707. But, DO NOT go to the Cheney Stadium box office. You see, there is a little problem over there…