WEST SACRAMENTO, CALIF. - The Tacoma Rainiers entered Tuesday's series-ending matinee in Sacramento on a four-game losing streak, but they had the comfort of knowing their ace was on the mound.
But during the first inning, Luke French didn’t look anything like the pitcher who was leading the Pacific Coast League in earned-run average.
French recovered from the near-knockout blow in the first inning to pitch seven full innings and earn his ninth PCL victory in Tacoma’s 5-3 victory over Sacramento.
After Jack Hannahan staked Tacoma to a 1-0 lead with a solo home run in the top of the first, French nearly unraveled in the bottom of the inning.
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Five of the first six Sacramento batters lined clean singles into the outfield, resulting in two runs and a bases-loaded, one-out situation for the River Cats’ Josh Donaldson.
It looked like French’s start might be a short one.
But Donaldson smoked a low line drive directly at second baseman Hannahan, who caught it and stepped on the base for an unassisted double play, ending the inning with just the two runs scoring.
“That double play – that was basically the reason he got through the seventh inning,” said Rainiers manager Daren Brown. “He was probably a couple of hitters away from being out of the game, but we made a play behind him and he was good from there.”
Was he ever.
After escaping the first inning, French (9-2) allowed just one hit and one run over the next six innings. When he left the game, the Rainiers held a 5-3 lead. Scott Patterson worked two scoreless innings to earn his second save.
French became the second PCL pitcher with at least nine wins – joining Sacramento’s Clay Mortensen (10-2) – and maintained his lead in ERA with a 2.39 mark.
Hannahan also had a big game. After homering in the first, he drew a leadoff walk in the third inning before scoring the tying run on Brad Nelson’s single.
In the sixth, with the Rainiers nursing a 4-3 lead, Hannahan’s two-out single to center scored Matt Mangini for a valuable insurance run.
“That was a big hit for us, with two outs and two strikes to get us a little insurance which we needed,” Brown said.
Tacoma (41-38) took a one-game lead over Salt Lake (40-39) in the PCL Pacific North Division standings after the Bees’ 5-3 loss to Reno.
The Rainiers have an off-day on today, with many of the players participating in the team’s annual charity golf tournament benefitting Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital. The Rainiers host Portland on Thursday night. Injured Mariners pitcher Erik Bedard is going to make a rehab start for Tacoma.
Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Rainiers.