Tacoma Takes Dramatic Playoff Opener

In a game filled with tension and drama, the Rainiers won the opening game of the best-of-five Pacific Conference Finals at El Paso on Wednesday night, 6-5. The game took 12 innings and clocked in at a MLB-playoffs approved 4 hours and 4 minutes.

It’s a huge win for the Rainiers, who have secured at least a split of the two road games in El Paso and know they’ll have home field advantage for the final three games. A win tonight at Southwest University Field, and the Rainiers are in control.

The pressure points in the game started early.

The first key moment came in the top of the second inning. The Rainiers had a run in, and the bases were loaded with two outs for Daniel Robertson. Facing El Paso starter Frank Garces, Robertson fell behind in the count 1-2. He started fouling off pitches, eventually got to a full count, and after two more foul balls he lined a two-run single to center, giving Tacoma an early 3-0 lead.

Tacoma starter Jarrett Grube kept El Paso off the scoreboard until the bottom of the fourth, when two walks and a two-out single by Diego Goris gave El Paso a run. In the fifth inning, Manuel Margot lined a solo homer to left-center and we had a 3-2 game after five full frames.

The Rainiers opened it up a bit in the top of the sixth, scoring two runs. Tyler Smith hit a leadoff double, and Rob Brantly doubled him home – each of those two would get four hits in the game. Later, Brantly scored on a James Ramsey single to make it 5-2.

Smith’s night was just getting started, and it was about to become quite a roller coaster ride. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the shortstop dropped a pop-up with two outs which allowed an unearned run to score, making it 5-3.

After some clutch relief pitching by Emilio Pagan, Tacoma took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Andrew Kittredge came in to close it out – and he would end up blowing the save, despite allowing only one hard-hit ball.

Nick Noonan roped Kittredge’s first pitch into the left field corner for a double. Kittredge’s next pitch – to Manuel Margot – resulted in an end-of-the-bat bloop double to shallow right field, right inside the foul line. Noonan scored and it was 5-4.

Margot went 4-for-6, with that flare double and an infield single on a ball he pounded off home plate. After the game, manager Pat Listach said “Some of those hits… Margot is a good player, don’t get me wrong, but he swings a magic wand against us.”

After a strikeout and a walk, El Paso had the tying and winning runners on base with one out and Austin Hedges at the plate. Hedges hit a one-hopper to second baseman Mike Freeman which looked like a game-ending double play. Freeman fielded the ball, flipped it to Smith for one out, and Smith’s relay to first base… sailed over Dan Vogelbach‘s head, allowing Margot to score the tying run.

Extra innings – in Game One of the playoffs.

Then tenth and top of the eleventh went by with little action, but El Paso put two runners on base with one out in the bottom of the eleventh. Making his biggest contribution since joining the team in early August, Al Alburquerque came in from the bullpen and retired Hunter Renfroe and Hedges very quickly to escape the jam.

The Rainiers moved ahead in the top of the twelfth inning against El Paso reliever Jason Jester. With one out, Smith collected his fourth hit of the game – a single to left. Brantly followed with his fourth hit, also a single to left. Smith was at second, when Zach Shank pulled a liner to left field for a base hit. Racing full-tilt around third, Smith slid into home plate ahead of El Paso left fielder Patrick Kivlehan‘s throw to give Tacoma a 6-5 lead.

Kivlehan reached to open the bottom of the twelfth, but Alburquerque retired the next three batter to end the game. The final two outs – both with Kivlehan in scoring position – came on balls hit to Smith, who handled them cleanly to end the game.

Talk about a day for Tyler Smith: after making just ten errors all season, the sure-handed infielder made two costly ones which allowed two runs to score. Then he goes 4-for-6 at the plate, scores the winning run, and makes two pressure-packed plays to end the game.

This was the most tense game the Rainiers have played in years. The end of the game felt like a relief. Tacoma’s Director of Baseball Operations Ashley Schutt, here on the road trip, said she spent the extra innings nervously pacing the concourse of Southwest University Field, walking foul pole to foul pole.

And that was just Game One. We’ll do it again tonight!

TODAY’S GAME

Today: Tacoma (81-62-1) at El Paso (73-70), 5:35 (Pacific)

Series: Best-of-five, Tacoma leads 1-0.

Opponent Affiliation: San Diego Padres.

Starting Pitchers: RHP Cody Martin (10-7, 3.62) at RHP Walker Lockett (1-2, 4.50)

Broadcast: The pregame show starts at 5:20 on South Sound Sports 850 AM. The broadcast also streams online via the TuneIn app – just click here.

PCL Scoreboard: Follow the PCL playoff games in real-time with links to Gameday screens right here.

Links:

Will Game Two be as nerve-racking as the opener?

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