Tito! Polo! Rainiers Walk Off In Home Opener

The Tacoma Rainiers overcame an unexpected hurdle in order to win the home opener on Tuesday night at Cheney Stadium, 5-4 over the El Paso Chihuahuas.

Rainiers scheduled starting pitcher Erik Swanson was called up by the Seattle Mariners earlier in the day, leaving Tacoma with a so-called “bullpen day” in the home opener.

The bullpen did the job.

Matt Tenuta started and went the first two innings, giving up a pair of solo homers. A reinforcement flown in from extended spring training named Penn Murfee delivered two scoreless innings, despite walking three and hitting a batter. Then Tayler Scott brought us three scoreless innings of dominant relief, striking out six of the nine batters he faced.

At this point we were through the seventh inning, and Tacoma held a 4-2 lead due to an early home run by Jose Lobaton, a big two-out two-run double by Braden Bishop, and a squeeze bunt to drive in another run from Eric Young Jr.

The bullpen got a little fuzzy in the eighth and ninth, as Robinson Leyer and Nick Rumbelow each permitted a run, and we went to the bottom of the ninth inning tied up, 4-4.

David Freitas led off the bottom of the ninth inning by drawing a four-pitch walk, and Shed Long was summoned from the bench to pinch-run for him. Austin Nola followed with a sharp single to right field, sending Long all the way to third base.

With the winning run at third and no outs, El Paso manager Edwin Rodriguez called for a five-man infield, bring one of his outfielder (Jose Pirela) in as an extra infielder, leaving just two players out in the pasture.

Tim Lopes was then hit by a pitch, loading the bases with no outs. That brought Tito Polo to the plate.

The defensive alignment didn’t matter. Polo lined a single to right-center, scoring Long from third base, and the Rainiers had their first walk-off victory of the season.

It was a fun finish for the fans who braved a pretty chilly Tuesday night to see the first game of the year at Cheney Stadium.

RAINIERS DAILY

YESTERDAY: Despite the loss of scheduled starting pitcher Erik Swanson prior to first pitch, the Rainiers beat El Paso on a ‘bullpen day,’ 5-4. Five Tacoma pitchers combined to strike out 16 batters, and Tito Polo had the game ending RBI single in the bottom of the ninth after El Paso had tied the game in the top of the inning.

ROSTER MOVE: Erik Swanson was promoted to Seattle, where his first appearance will be his major league debut. Tacoma added reliever Penn Murfee from extended spring training to take his roster spot.

TODAY: El Paso (1-5) at Tacoma (2-4), 6:05.

OPPONENT AFFILIATION: San Diego Padres.

OPPOSING MANAGER: Edwin Rodriguez.

SEASONS SERIES: Tacoma leads, 1-0.

PITCHERS: LHP Logan Allen (0-1, 27.00) at LHP Tommy Milone (0-0, 11.25)

The 21-year-old lefty against the 32-year-old lefty who has been in the majors for all or parts of eight years. Each is coming off a less-than-desirable first start of the season.

HOT HITTERS: Braden Bishop has hit safely in each of the first six games of the season, and he has reached base in 15 of his 31 plate appearances so far… Bishop leads the PCL with five doubles… Kristopher Negron, Austin Nola, and J.P. Crawford each have a four-game hitting streak.

OPPONENT NEWS: El Paso lost four-of-five at home to the Las Vegas Aviators and brings a four-game losing streak into tonight’s contest… Josh Naylor and Esteban Quiroz each hit safely in the season’s first six games. The 21-year-old Naylor was the 12th pick in the first round of the 2015 draft.

FAMILIAR FACES: Seth Mejias-Brean – the Rainiers third baseman for the last season-and-a-half – is now with El Paso after signing with the Padres as a free agent during the offseason. They also have former Rainiers outfielder Boog Powell on the injured list.

BROADCAST: The pregame show starts at 5:50 on South Sound Talk 850 AM. The broadcast also streams online via the TuneIn app – just click here.

PCL SCOREBOARD: Follow all Pacific Coast League games in real-time with links to Gameday screens right here.

Links:

In the PCL:

  • The new ballpark in Las Vegas opened last night, with the hometown Aviators securing a 10-2 victory over Sacramento. Severe winds prevented any home runs from being hit, and sent many fans home early. The ballpark received great reviews, other than the wind. The Aviators have two new mascots.
  • Reno’s Taylor Clarke turned in a strong start as the Aces took down Albuquerque, 4-2. It was a frigid home opener for the Aces.
  • Fresno at Salt Lake was rained out, and they’ll try to play two today.
  • Omaha shut out Oklahoma City, 4-0, behind the pitching of Jeff Dziedzic.
  • Over 8,000 fans packed Iowa’s Principal Park. but New Orleans spoiled the I-Cubs home opener with a 4-3 win. The Des Moines Register gives us five storylines to follow on the Iowa Cubs.
  • Top prospect Forrest Whitley was pretty good, but Round Rock could muster only one run of support for him and lost to Nashville, 3-1. The Austin Statesman has a full report.
  • In its first home game at the Triple-A level, San Antonio scored twice in the ninth on Mauricio Dubon‘s walk-off single and beat Memphis, 6-5. Apparently San Antonio is going to join the growing number of PCL teams that have zero newspaper coverage.
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