The starter, Francisco Cruceta, is a new face and was making just his second start for the team. The second pitcher of the day, Andrew Lorraine, moved into the bullpen from the starting rotation. The third, Masao Kida, was asked to step into the role of closer early in the season.
But roster shuffling for the 2005 Rainiers has been the rule, instead of the exception. And this trio of Rainiers hurlers responded to the challenge, much like the Rainiers have responded to challenges all season long.
Cruceta, who came to the Rainiers after being released by the Indians, pitched 6.2 innings and allowed only two runs. After struggling with control in his first start with the Rainiers, Cruceta didn't walk a Sacramento batter.
"Unbelievable," remarked Tacoma manager Dan Rohn. "The braintrust met last night and we liked the matchup he gave us. They have a lot of left-handed hitters. We decided to go with him."
But Lorraine turned in the performance of the day. Entering the game with the score 3-2 and Sacramento's Bobby Smith on second, Lorraine got Charles Thomas to ground out to second, ending the River Cats' biggest threat. Then in the eighth, again with a runner on second and two outs, Lorraine struck out left fielder Jack Cust to end the inning. The veteran pitcher pumped his fist after earning the strikeout.
"I usually don't show emotion out on the mound," said Lorraine. "But he's probably the most dangerous hitter in the lineup."
It was the last time Sacramento would threaten, as Kida earned his 22nd save by pitching a hitless ninth inning.
Tacoma entered Sunday one game ahead of Salt Lake in the PCL's Northern Division. The Rainiers won the season series against the Stingers, earning the tie-breaker.
The Rainiers jumped out to an early lead against Sacramento starter Mike Saipe. Shin-soo Choo doubled to lead off the bottom of the first. Choo scored two batters later on an Abraham Nunez single. Nunez came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Hunter Brown, and the Rainiers led 2-0 after one inning.
Jermaine Clark homered for the River Cats in the top of the third to close the gap to 2-1, but the Rainiers answered with a run of their own when Wiki Gonzalez tripled, scoring Nunez from first base. Those three runs would be all the Tacoma pitching staff needed.
Nunez finished the game 2-for-4, scoring two runs and knocking in the third. The 28-year-old outfielder has been an unsung hero for the Rainiers all season long, leading the team in home runs and RBI while playing all three outfield positions.
Rohn, who earned his second straight PCL manager of the year award this year, knows the best way to describe his team's character.
"They're crazy," says Rohn. "It's the most fun I've had in a long time."
They may be crazy, and their roster may change on almost a daily basis, but they can add another achievement to their list by winning in the post-season.
Tacoma will face the same Sacramento River Cats on Wednesday and Thursday in round one of the PCL playoffs.
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