The Tacoma Rainiers still have a chance of making the playoffs.
It’s just an exceptionally improbable one.
That’s because the Rainiers 8-6 loss in a 13-inning bout against Pacific Coast League northern division-leader Salt Lake on Wednesday puts Tacoma four games back of the Bees with five games left.
But this might as well have been the Rainiers season-finale, considering how inconceivable their postseason probability became.
It took five hours and seven minutes to end the 13-inning contest Wednesday (actually, Thursday by the time it was over). The teams combined to use 13 pitchers – the game-winning one, Bees reliever Daniel Stange, also came to the plate and recorded a key sacrifice bunt in the final inning – and almost the rest of the game after the ninth was played in rain.
Mike Zunino, Stefen Romero and Nate Tenbrink struck out a combined 12 times – four each.
The Rainiers had opportunities, but failed to capitalize.
Rich Poythress led off the eighth with a single and was pulled for pinch-runner Leury Bonilla, who advanced to second when pitcher Ryan Brasier’s pickoff attempt sailed into foul territory in right field.
Rainiers catcher Jesus Sucre advanced him to third with a sacrifice bunt, but Carlos Triunfel grounded to the pitcher and the hot bat of Abraham Almonte (team-best .310 batting average) didn’t drive him in either – popping out to center field, instead.
Salt Lake took control in the top of the 13th. Stange, who allowed one hit and no runs pitching the 10th, 11th, and 12th innings, batted for right fielder Scott Cousins and sacrificed Andy Marte to third. Catcher Luke Carlin later followed with a single to center to put the Bees ahead 7-6.
They got another on Drew Heid’s bases-loaded shot to right off reliever Josh Kinney, who came in for Brian Moran who had to leave with a leg injury. Heid only got a single because former Rainier Luis Rodriguez came up holding his leg heading to second and Rainiers right fielder Carlos Peguero’s throw beat Carlin to home plate for the final out of the inning.
In need of a rally, the Rainiers sent pinch-hitter Ji-Man Choi to the plate in the bottom half of the inning for Bonilla and he led off with a walk. But Sucre followed by grounding into a double play and Triunfel struck out to end the game.
A Rainiers win would have pulled them to within two games back of the Bees with another game against them Thursday and a four-game home series following that against Sacramento.
It would have provided a much less challenging road to the PCL northern division title. Now that scenario only exists in when combined with “What if?”
Now the Rainiers must win the series finale against the Bees with Hector Noesi (3-2, 4.82 ERA) on the mound for the Rainiers against Salt Lake’s Jarrett Grube (7-5, 4.39 ERA). That would pull them to three games back and Tacoma would need to take at least three of four against Sacramento and hope Salt Lake loses at least three of four in Reno.
The only thing on the Rainiers side is they own the tiebreaker with the Bees – considering they win Thursday. Their playoffs hopes would die if they lose Thursday, anyway.
But that is a sliver of brightness in a room painted midnight black with the lights turned off. Wednesday was a must-win that the Rainiers lost.
Tacoma led briefly in the sixth. Almonte sent a line-drive shot over the right field wall for 2-out, solo home run – his 15th of the season. He finished the game 3-for-5 with two RBI.
Salt Lake tied it back up the following inning using no hits. The Bees used a lead-off walk, a throwing error from Sucre on a stolen base that allowed Heid to advance to third, and Tommy Field’s sacrifice fly to center to tie the game at 6-6.
It marked the fifth lead change or tie of the game.
The Rainiers first trailed 2-0 into the bottom of the third. But led 4-2 after.
Sucre and Triunfel led off with back-to-back hits and Ty Kelly scored Sucre on a bloop single to right field.
Zunino then walked in his second rehab game with the Rainiers since coming back from a broken hamate bone in his wrist – he finished 0-for-5 with four strikeouts – to load the bases for Peguero.
Peguero slapped a broken-bat double down the right-field line – his first of two in the game – to unload the bases and propel the Rainiers to a two-run lead.
Almonte extended that lead an inning later with a two-out double to the gap in left-center. It scored Poythress from second, who advanced there following Fernando Cabrera’s balk.
Cabrera relieved Dustin Richardson, who started in place of Dontrelle Willis, the former National League Cy Young runner-up and Rookie of the Year, who was scratched before the game win an illness.
But the Bees erased the 5-2 lead on one pitch to Field.
Rainiers starter Andrew Carraway walked consecutive batters in the fifth and pitching coach Terry Clark decided to meet with him on the mound. Carraway’s first pitch off the mound visit was sent over the left field wall by Field for a 3-run home run, tying the game at 5-5.
The Rainiers would only add Almonte’s homer in the sixth after that. They recorded only one hit in extra innings and that was a bunt-single from Almonte.
It wasted a solid effort from the relief staff, which combined to pitch 10 innings, allowing two runs and striking out 12. Brian Moran was charged with both runs and took the loss.
Zunino and Romero had especially rough days. They combined to strand eight runners. Romero struck out his first four at-bats – extending his consecutive strikeout streak to eight from Tuesday – and finished 0-for-6.
SO LONG, TAIJUAN
The Mariners called up 21-year-old Taijuan Walker from the Rainiers on Wednesday. He will start against the Houston Astros on Friday. Walker started 11 games (5-3, 3.61 ERA, 64 strikeouts) after joining the Rainiers in late June from Double-A Jackson. The Rainiers will not bring anyone up to replace his vacated roster spot until Walker’s previously scheduled start against Sacramento on Friday.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677