TACOMA, Wash. – A day late and an out short, the Tacoma Rainiers fell to the Fresno Grizzlies in 11 innings on opening night on Saturday, by a score of 11-9 – thanks to a familiar face.
After Friday's scheduled opener was washed away by torrential rains, the Rainiers fought back from a 7-1 defecit to tie the game at nine, only to have the comback foiled by a defensive miscue that handed the Grizzlies two runs in the top of the eleventh inning and a bloop single by former Rainiers infielder Mickey Lopez.
"We battled back," said Rainiers manager Dan Rohn. "We were down 7-1 and came back to tie it up, so we had our chances. We played hard and they battled, but a couple of mental mistakes here and there cost us."
The mistakes Rohn spoke of is mainly focused on the decision of shortstop Michael Morse to throw to third with one out and a runner on second base in the eleventh inning of a tie game.
With left-hander George Sherrill on the mound, and throwing well, Morse fielded a Donaldo Mendez ground ball, and instead of throwing Mendez out at first base to record the second out of the inning, Morse inexplicably turned and threw to third to try and cut down the lead runner.
The throw was too late to get the sliding Justin Knoedler, and Mendez was safe at first, giving the Grizzlies a chance to score the go-ahead run without the benefit of a hit, and handing them an extra out.
The mishap would prove costly when Sherrill struck out Adam Shabala, which would have been the third out of the inning. Instead of the home team coming to bat with a chance to win it, Lopez would step up and fist a texas-league single to right-center field, scoring the eventual game-winning run.
"The blooper was just Mickey Lopez as his best," said Sherrill of his former teammate's base hit.
Sherrill (0-2) picked up the loss but was sharp for the second straight outing, throwing 17 of 21 pitches for strikes and punching out three batters. The Rainiers closer knows this sort of unfortunate play can happen and didn't take to frustration. Instead, Sherrill went right after the next two hitters.
"If we take the out there (at first) instead of going for the out at third, we're moving on to the nexbottom half with a shot at winning it," said Sherrill. "But that's the way the game goes."
Sherrill made no excuses for the loss and went as far to say he still had the opportunity to get out of the inning, even after the Mendez grounder.
"It's first and third, so one pitch and I'm out of the inning," said Sherrill. "Any error, any mental mistake, just brush past it because we all make them. He'll learn from it, and we'll all learn from this game."
Right-hander Dan Reichert started and lasted just two innings, giving way to the bullpen after allowing five runs, four earned, on five hits. Reichert walked three in his first start of the season, before Bret Evert took over in the third.
"It was just one of those nights," said Rohn of his starting pitcher. "He just struggled, that's all there is to it. He wasn't sharp going out."
After the Rainiers spotted Fresno a six run lead heading into the bottom of the fourth inning, the bats started to rally, inning afer inning, chipping away at the Grizzlies lead.
"These guys aren't going to give up," said Rohn. "We're going to keep battling back and keep playing the game hard. We have a bunch of young kids and we need to find out what they are going to do and how they are going to react."
The young group did react positively, pouring out 14 hits on their back to tying the game in the bottom of the eighth. Tacoma was led offensively by the four hits each by left fielder Shin-soo Choo and third baseman Justin Leone, and two each by leadoff man Jamal Strong and first baseman Aaron Rifkin, who smacked his second home run of the season to get the Rainers their first run of the game in the second inning.
Fresno right-hander Brandon Puffer (1-0, 2.57) tossed two perfect innings for the win and veteran right-hander Kevin Correia recorded his second save of the season with a perfect eleventh.
In the end, the Rainiers were one out shy and a jam shot short of an opening night victory, prompting Rohn to cite a little bad luck on opening night.
"What can you do about a bloop, there's nothing you can do about it."
He's Back... Finally: Chris Snelling was activated Friday and made the start as the designated hitter on Saturday night. The 23-year-old went 1-for-3 with a walk and a RBI double in his season debut. Snelling is feeling as close to 100% as possible after knee surgery this spring, though he feels he does have a ways to go before he's back to being the player he wants to be.
"I don't think it'll ever be 100%," said Snelling after making his season debut on Saturday night. "I just have to go with it and kind of come back slowly and stay healthy. I ‘m not thinking about anything else but winning and staying healthy. Doing the little things that I never really thought about when I was healthy before. Before, I didn't have a care in the world."
The Australian is not feeling any added pressure, however, and has simplified his approach to the game as he works his way back to being a full-time player, playing the outfield and scrapping the DH role. But the hard-nosed go-getter has been forced to curb his daily physical exertion in order to aid in his staying in uniform and off the disabled list.
"The hardest thing to do for me is to lay back on things," he said. "I used to hit 400 balls a day but now I have to get my rest, get my sleep and prepare not only for today, but for tomorrow."
Choo Shows Off Arm: Tacoma's left fielder, Shin-soo Choo, put his throwing arm on display Saturday night at Cheney Stadium, gunning down Fresno's Mike Cervenak at second base as he tried to stretch a line drive to left field into a double. On another play, Choo nearly picked off a runner at first base after he had taken a wide turn and turned his back to the field of play as Choo picked up the ball in medium left field.
Relief Work: The Rainiers used four relievers in Saturday night's contest, lengthening the leash of Sunday's starting pitchers. Right-hander Bret Evert went 2.1 innings, allowing two earned runs, left-hander Jared Thomas faced 11 hitters over 2.2 innings of work and yielded a run on two hits, and right-hander Chris Buglovsky went 2.1 innings, surrendering a run on three hits.
Lefty George Sherrill pitched 1.2 innings, giving up two runs, one earned, on two hits.
Double-Dip: Sunday, the Rainiers will play an Ernie Banks special when they take on the Fresno Grizzlies in a double-header at Cheney Stadium. Game one pits right-hander Rich Dorman (0-1, 9.00) against Grizzlies right-hander Matt Cain (1-0, 0.00), the San Francisco Giants top prospect. In game two, Tacoma will send out newly signed southpaw Andrew Lorraine versus Fresno right-hander Brian Cooper (1-1, 4.38).
The first pitch for game one is scheduled for 1:35 pm.
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