RAINIERS MAKING IT A RACE

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Tacoma starting pitcher Bryan Evans may have not earned the win from his Friday, June 29 start, but the right-hander put together a solid performance. Evans put in six innings of work, giving up just seven hits and two earned runs, while striking out six batters and issuing zero walks. He also sports the most Tacoma-esque beard on the roster. Photo by Rocky Ross

Under the usual circumstances, a team isn’t going to make much headway in the standings by going just .500 over a week’s stretch of games. Won’t tell that to the Tacoma Rainiers, as they continue their chase for the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Northern Division pennant. Faced with a tasty nine-game home stand, the Rainiers hoped to take advantage of the Las Vegas 51s and the Reno Aces playing in Tacoma’s own backyard.

Tacoma entered their current run at Cheney trailing the Fresno Grizzlies by 5.5 games in the standings. They had shaved a game in the week prior, and chances seemed pretty solid that Tacoma could very well reel-in the Grizzlies even a little more with so many games in a row at home.

Instead, the Rainiers enter their final game of their home stand on Tuesday, July 3, with a fairly disappointing 4-4 record during the stretch. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies had lost seven of their last 10 contests.

Despite the .500 mark, Tacoma sliced off yet another game from Fresno’s lead. Sitting at 44-40, the Rainiers now trail the first-place Grizzlies (48-35) by just 4.5 games. Don’t look now folks, but it looks like we’re going to have another playoff race this summer.

Dugout high-fives greet Tacoma first-baseman Daniel Vogelbach following another blast over the Cheney Stadium fence. Vogelbach has mashed 13 home runs on the season in just 50 games with the Rainiers. Photo by Rocky Ross

For the most part, Mother Nature treated Rainiers’ fans pretty well over the recent home stand. A few drops fell here and there, but none of the games were impacted. In fact, most of the games were played under near-perfect conditions. As summer winds on and heats up, things should be looking fantastic at Cheney Stadium for the remainder of the season.

Tacoma has been able to stay relatively healthy in recent weeks. Coupled with the fact that the Seattle Mariners haven’t dipped into the regular roster in a couple of weeks, it isn’t a stretch to think the Rainiers may be on the verge of heating up. They’ve got a solid pitching staff and an athletic crew swinging the bats. The more time they can spend together as a complete unit, the more this team is going to gel. This sort of combination usually results in victories.

Hey, we’ve got a playoff race on our hands. We can’t help but speculate a little bit.

In other news, Tacoma right-handed reliever Shawn Armstrong was selected to represent the PCL in the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday, July 11, in Columbus, Ohio. Armstrong is turning into a regular at these all-star outings, as this will now be his fifth trip to a minor-league all-star game. This will be his third outing at the Triple-A level.

When Tacoma knocked off the Reno Aces on Monday, July 2, the victory moved Rainiers’ manager Pat Listach a notch higher on the all-time managerial leaderboard. With 259 wins, Listach is now tied for fifth-place all-time with Red Davis, who managed Tacoma from 1960-1962.

Possibly the most exciting race in Triple-A right now is going on in the PCL Pacific Southern Division. The El Paso Chihuahuas (45-39) hold a one-game lead on the Salt Lake Bees (44-40). The Albuquerque Isotopes (41-42) aren’t far behind, trailing by just 3.5 games. Fourth-place Las Vegas (40-44) also remains in the division hunt, trailing the little pups by just five games. This is definitely a race to keep an eye on.

The Colorado Springs Sky Sox (46-36) have overtaken the Oklahoma City Dodgers (44-35) in the PCL American Northern Division. Both teams will be paying a visit to Cheney Stadium in the first week of August, for what will be a seven-game home stand for the Rainiers.

There isn’t much of a race going on in the PCL American Southern Division. It looks like the Memphis Redbirds (52-32) are trying to run away with the pennant. The New Orleans Baby Cakes (one of our favorite mascot names) trail the Redbirds by 11.5 games in the standings with a 40-43 record.

Let’s take a look at the previous week of action for the Rainiers.

On Wednesday, June 27, the Las Vegas 51s seemed to be trying to hand-deliver a victory to the Rainiers. Vegas pitchers combined for a staggering 11 walks in the ball game, but Tacoma was unable to turn that bit of charity into much of anything in front of a big crowd of 7,146 fans. Tacoma’s Casey Lawrence was tagged with the loss in this 5-2 head-scratcher, going 5.2 innings and giving up four earned runs. Right-fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis slapped a double, along with a two-bagger by left-fielder John Andreoli.

The Rainiers didn’t fare much better the following night, falling again by a score of 5-2. This time, Las Vegas pitchers would only surrender three walks to Tacoma batters, while scattering nine hits. Doubles by catcher David Freitas and second-baseman Adam Law were the high point for Tacoma. Tacoma starting pitcher Christian Bergman suffered the loss, going four innings, while surrendering four earned runs.

Tacoma would get their act together on Friday, June 29, with a 4-2 win over the Reno Aces. A crowd of 6,478 fans weathered a short deluge early in the game to see Tacoma come from behind in the sixth inning on a home run from first-baseman Daniel Vogelbach. Second-baseman Gordon Beckham would put Tacoma ahead in the seventh inning with a two-run home run, his fifth of the season. Even though he pitched just 1.1 innings, right-hander Mike Morin earned his third win of the season.

Both teams were in an offensive mood the following night. Reno would push across five runs over the final two innings to take a 14-8 victory in front of 5,937 fans at Cheney Stadium. The Rainiers racked-up 14 hits, but the eight runs just weren’t going to get it done on this night. Law and Freitas each registered a double, with Vogelbach hitting a two-run home run in the first inning. Reliever Ashton Goudeau was tagged with the loss after giving up four earned runs in just 1.2 innings of work.

A crowd of 6,862 fans came out to see Tacoma take a 7-2 victory on Sunday, July 1. Left-fielder Ian Miller and Law each slapped a double on the afternoon, while shortstop Zach Vincej tagged his sixth home run of the season in the sixth inning with two runners on base. Starting pitcher Williams Perez earned his first victory with a solid five innings of work. Perez scattered seven hits, while striking out six Aces and surrendering just two earned runs.

Tacoma would get back to .500 for the home stand with a 5-3 victory over the Aces on Monday, July 2. Each team put 11 hits into play, with Reno dialing up two long balls. The Rainiers put together a lunch bucket performance, with the only big pop of the bat coming off a double by right-fielder Cameron Perkins. Left-hander Daniel Schlereth earned his first win in just a single inning of relief.

The Rainiers will visit Albuquerque for a five-game series before going into the Triple-A All-Star break. Tacoma will return home for a huge four-game series against the first-place Fresno Grizzlies beginning on Thursday, July 12, at 7:05 p.m.

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