FRESNO, CALIF - Young left-hander Mauricio Robles was in control on Saturday night, and Tacoma took a big step toward clinching its second straight division title with a 3-1 victor over the Fresno Grizzlies.
The win, along with second-place Salt Lakes 6-5 loss to Reno, lowered the Rainiers magic number to one. Tacoma can clinch the the Pacific Coast League Pacific North Division today with either a win over Fresno, or a Salt Lake loss.
Robles, who had not walked fewer than four batters in any of his first four Triple-A starts, showed command and polish in his first Pacific Coast League road game. The 21-year-old, acquired from Detroit in the Jarrod Washburn trade last season, worked seven innings and allowed just one run. Robles threw 93 pitches and 64 were strikes he walked just one batter, while striking out six.
Robles allowed the only run to score in the first inning. Emmanuel Burris singled with one out, and Jesus Guzman followed with a double to right-center that was nearly caught by Tacoma center fielder Greg Hal-man. Brett Pills ground-ball out scored Burris, and it was 1-0, Fresno.
The early deficit was a bit of a concern for the Rainiers, who were facing PCL wins leader Eric Hacker.
Hacker (16-8) retired the first six batters he faced while bidding to become the leagues first 17-game winner since 1995, but he ran into trouble in the third inning.
Mike Wilson singled up the middle to open the third, and Tug Hulett coaxed a walk. Eliezer Alfonzo then lifted a deep fly to the right-field corner. The ball was slicing toward foul territory, but it stayed inside the foul pole for a three-run homer, giving Tacoma a 3-1 lead.
The Rainiers did not score again, but they did not need to. Robles was in charge for seven innings, Steven Shell worked around a pair of singles in the eighth, and Scott Patterson pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his sixth save.
The win was just the second for Tacoma in its last 17 road games.
Mike Carp did not homer Saturday, but he has hit eight in his last 10 games and has 29 on the year. If Carp hits one more home run, he and Greg Halman will become the first Tacoma teammates to reach 30 home runs in the same season in the 51-year franchise history... Alfonzo hit his second triple of the season in the fourth inning, tying his career high... Donne Wall of Tucson was the last PCL pitcher to win 17 games; he did it in 1995.
The penultimate game of the 2010 regular season is this evening at 6:05. Tacoma starts Yusmeiro Petit (3-2, 5.50 ERA) against Fresnos Henry Sosa (7-7, 3.97).
Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Rainiers.