Some in the crowd of 983 fans who attended Saturday's Game 4 of the Pacific Coast League Pacific Conference playoff series between the Tacoma Rainiers and Sacramento River Cats must have wondered where this was 10 years ago.
That was when the Seattle Mariners dealt Ken Griffey, Jr. to the Cincinnati Reds for a package that included a pitcher named Brett Tomko. Tomko pitched two mediocre seasons for the Mariners, going 10-6 in 2000-01 before being traded to San Diego.
But Tomko was anything but mediocre Saturday.
The 37-year-old right-hander retired the first 10 batters he faced – five of them by strikeout – and Sacramento stayed alive with a 5-1 victory at Safeco Field.
The deciding Game 5 will be played at 7 p.m. today at Safeco Field. The winner will meet Memphis for the Pacific Coast League title beginning Tuesday at Memphis.
Tomko, who started his professional career in 1995 – when Rainiers leadoff hitter Dustin Ackley was 7 – has a 95-99 career record the majors, going 3-1 last season for Oakland. He spent two stints with Tacoma, going a combined 11-6 in 2000 and 2001.
But Saturday was the first time Tomko had faced the Rainiers in his 15-year career, and he wasted little time showing who was in control.
Tomko struck out four of the first six batters he faced and didn’t allow a baserunner until Greg Halman grounded a single up the middle with one out in the fourth inning.
One out later, Tomko gave up a single to left by David Winfree but escaped by getting a fly out to right by Mike Carp.
Tomko didn’t run into trouble again until the seventh, when he walked Matt Mangini to lead off, then allowed an infield single to Winfree. Tomko was lifted for another former Mariners and Rainiers pitcher – Travis Blackley – who allowed a sacrifice bunt to Carp and struck out Justin Smoak before intentionally walking pinch-hitter Mike Wilson to load the bases. But reliever Michael Benacka ended the threat by getting Eliezer Alfonzo to ground out to second.
“He did a good job keeping us off balance,” Tacoma manager Jose Castro said. “I don’t know if we were pressing. He pitched a good game.”
Tomko allowed just three hits and one walk in his six-plus innings, and while Tacoma had some success against the Sacramento relievers , they had little luck scoring. The Rainiers had at least two baserunners in each of the final three innings, but for the game went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
Tacoma starter Yusmeiro Petit allowed a run in the first and a run in the sixth but was solid in his 5† innings. The relievers, though, were a different story. The Rainiers walked six batters and hit another in the last 3ª innings, the big blow coming on a two-run double by Travis Buck in the ninth that made it 5-0, essentially ending any hope for a Tacoma rally.
“It’s disappointing but we’re still in it,” Castro said. “We need to focus a little more and do what we did the first two games.”