MEMPHIS, TENN. – The story of how the Rainiers took command of the Pacific Coast League championship with an 11-7 Game 2 win over the Memphis Redbirds Wednesday night at AutoZone Park was actually more of a trilogy.
The Rainiers chipped their way to a 4-0 first-inning lead off Redbirds starter Brandon Dickson (1-1) thanks to a blown double play, a walk and four singles, including a two-run hit by Mike Wilson.
“That’s the key, putting guys on base and putting pressure on their guy to make pitches. That’s how it all starts,” said Wilson, who wasn’t through yet.
The next three innings were vintage Tacoma lumber, with home runs by Greg Halman, Mike Carp, Tug Hulett and David Winfree off Dickson and a two-run blast to dead center by Wilson off reliever Oneli Perez that made it 11-4 after four innings. That pushed the Rainiers’ season home run total to 195, with seven of those coming as they have taken a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series with the defending PCL-champion Redbirds. “We mash, and tonight we came in mashing,” said Hal-man, who led the team with 33 homers in the regular season and is 5-for-9 in this series. “There are guys who can take you deep all through this lineup now. That makes you relaxed and confident.”
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Yet in the final innings, the Rainiers had to keep the Redbirds from clawing their way back into the contest. The door didn’t shut tight until the final Tacoma relievers – Edward Paredes and Scott Patterson – retired the Memphis’ last five batters, three of them on strikeouts.
“Paredes was solid, and Patterson had that curveball working, fortunately,” said Rainiers manager Jose Castro, whose team will revert to being the “visiting” squad Friday night, when Tacoma goes for the sweep and the title with Yusmeiro Petit (0-1 in postseason) on the mound.
“I’ve seen enough of (Redbirds manager) Chris Maloney’s teams. That group is talented, but they also don’t quit. Ever. We have to remember that,” Castro added.
Mauricio Robles (1-1), Tacoma’s second straight 21-year-old starter in this series, had a couple of shaky moments in his five innings, giving up a two-run double to Tony Cruz in the top of the second and a towering two-run blast by Mark Hamilton in the third. That made it a 7-4 game and kept the Memphis crowd of 4,365 hopeful.
“Starting in the fourth, Mauricio got some confidence in his change-up, throwing it for strikes, and it made him far more effective,” Castro said of the young lefty, who was rocked for six runs in a first-round loss against Sacramento last week .
Memphis quickly loaded the bases and scratched out a couple of runs in the sixth off reliever Ian Snell. Levale Speigner surrendered a run in the seventh on Allen Craig’s second double of the night and an RBI single by Joe Mather that pulled Memphis within four, but the Tacoma bullpen let the Redbirds get no closer.
Winfree led the Rainiers’ 15-hit attack, going 3-for-4, and has reached base in 13 straight games. Halman, Carp and the 7-8-9 hitters – Wilson, Hulett and Eliezer Alfonzo – had two hits each.
“One guy hits, then the next guy hits, and it keeps going” Carp said. “This team feeds off hits. This isn’t the first time we’ve put five out on somebody, and we’re capable of doing it most nights.”
Hulett, who had three homers in 19 games after being picked up as a free agent by Tacoma in mid-August, said weather conditions also made the Redbirds’ home field a launching pad. “Low humidity, warm night, the ball will carry here,” Hulett said.
Wilson said of his homer: “I was sure it wasn’t going to go as far as it did. No way, but it got out.”
Craig, Amaury Cazana and Ruben Gotay each had two of Memphis’ 12 hits, but the Redbirds stranded eight runners, giving them 15 left on base over the first two nights of this series.
P.J. Walters (1-0) will try to keep Memphis’ hopes for a repeat alive on Friday against Petit.