Rainiers down, but not out

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Tacoma shortstop Zach Vincej gets to the plate a moment behind the tag and is called out. After kicking off the season with a sizzling start, Vincej has struggled at the plate, as has also happened with pretty much the Rainiers’ collective roster. Tacoma is tied with Omaha for second to last in team batting average (.257) for the entire Pacific Coast League. It’s been a year of feast or famine on the scoreboard for the Rainiers. Photo by Rocky Ross.

It has been a long journey with a few bumps in the road for the Tacoma Rainiers this season. While the club has hovered around the .500 mark all season, the Tyler Street boys have been unable to put together the sort of run that catapults a team into lasting contention for a division pennant. Now, with just 25 games remaining on the season, Tacoma finds itself trailing the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Northern Division leaders by what may be an insurmountable 9.5 games in the standings.

In our last issue, we mentioned the need for a minor miracle to get the Rainiers back in the heat of the race. The window of opportunity opened slightly over the past week, but unfortunately, Tacoma was unable to capitalize. Over the previous seven games, the division-leading Fresno Grizzlies could muster just three wins. There were possibly four games for Tacoma to pick up on the leaders, but it wasn’t in the cards for the Rainiers. Despite playing all seven games at home, Tacoma was only able to match Fresno’s 3-4 mark and gained zero ground in the standings.

Now, we’re looking past the minor miracles, and kicking it up a notch into the realm of major miracles. This is what it is going to take for Tacoma to get even close to Fresno. A complete collapse by the Grizzlies, coupled with an equally massive collapse by the second-place Reno Aces could open the door for a late-season run that fans would go on to tell their grandchildren about some day.

Of course, that would mean the Rainiers would have to find a way to finally put together the sort of winning streak that has eluded them all season. While it’s not impossible to gain 9.5 games in the standings with just 25 games remaining, it would require a combination of epic losses and an epic finish by the parties involved. The odds are about as long as they can be for the Rainiers, but that just makes our hometown team an even more lovable underdog.

The summer at Cheney Stadium has been magnificent this season. The temperatures and weather have turned out to be fantastic, and the Rainiers have at least delivered a .500 home record so far (29-29). There are 11 home games remaining on the season. If the crowd sizes from the previous home stand are any sort of example, it’s probably time to snatch up some tickets for the final games, because there’s not going to be a ton of them available.

Let’s take a look at the past week of Tacoma Rainiers action.

On Wednesday, Aug. 1, the Rainiers welcomed the Oklahoma City Dodgers to Cheney Stadium. A crowd of 6,723 fans came out to witness a six-arm pitching gem by the Dodgers, as the Tacoma bats were silenced to the tune of just three hits in a 3-0 loss. Oklahoma City rolled out six pitchers on the night, and a double by designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach was the lone bit of fireworks for Tacoma. Starting pitcher Ross Detwiler (2-5) was saddled with the loss, despite putting in a solid six innings of work, while giving up just two earned runs.

The following night, Tacoma’s bats woke up a little, but the Rainiers’ 10 hits only managed to put three men across home plate. A crowd of 5,335 saw the Dodgers turn back Tacoma by a score of 6-3, and it was another up and down performance by Tacoma starting pitcher Rob Whalen (7-5). Whalen gave up five earned runs over five innings of work, while striking out five Dodger batters and issuing three walks. A home run by right fielder Ben Gamel and a double by center fielder Ian Miller were the offensive highlights for the Rainiers.

Tacoma’s offense would explode for 19 hits on Friday, Aug. 3, as the Rainiers thumped the Dodgers by a score of 13-1, in front of 6,394 fans. The Rainiers’ batters would hit four home runs and three doubles in their eight innings of work. Starting pitcher Bryan Evans (4-1) earned the victory, putting in 6.2 innings of work, while surrendering just one earned run and striking out five Oklahoma City batters.

On Saturday, Aug. 4, Tacoma welcomed the Colorado Springs Sky Sox to Cheney Stadium and their winning ways continued with a 9-3 victory. Tacoma batters pounced on the Sky Sox pitching with 15 hits in the game, including a total of five doubles. Starting pitcher Casey Lawrence hurled a gem, going five innings, while giving up just one earned run and striking out five batters. Four Tacoma relievers would wrap things up for the Rainiers in front of a crowd of 7,279 happy fans.

The Rainiers would fall victim to some excellent pitching the following afternoon, losing by a score of 6-1. Tacoma was unable to get much going offensively, tallying just five hits on the day. After looking sharp in his previous outings, starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez stumbled a bit in his four innings of work, yielding three earned runs, while issuing two walks and striking out four. The crowd of 7,100 would have to settle for a solo home run by Vogelbach and a double from Miller.

Tacoma would rebound on Monday, Aug. 6, with a 3-2 victory in 10 innings. Colorado Springs would take a 2-1 lead in the top of the 10th inning, but Tacoma answered in the bottom half. Second baseman Gordon Beckham slapped a walk-off double, scoring Gamel and third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean for the win. Detwiler delivered a solid 6.1 innings of work, surrendering just one earned run, while striking out four batters. Reliever Shawn Armstrong (2-4) would garner the win with his one inning of work in the 10th inning.

A huge crowd of 7,229 would come out for a matinee the following day, as Tacoma and Colorado Springs closed their four-game series under clear, sunny skies. On the mound, Whalen (7-6) would prove to be the Rainiers undoing, as he gave up four earned runs (seven total) in just 3.1 innings of work in the 8-4 loss. Two doubles from center fielder Andrew Aplin and another from Mejias- Brean were the sole offensive sparks for Tacoma, with Aplin accounting for all four runs batted in.

Tacoma returns home for its final home stand of the season on Thursday, Aug. 16. The Rainiers will host Fresno for a four game set, followed by three games against Reno. The home stand will conclude with a four-game set against the El Paso Chihuahuas, beginning on Friday, Aug. 24, which will also be the final post-game fireworks show of the season.

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