Rainiers first baseman Justin Smoak should get a lot of credit for his walkoff sacrifice fly in Tacoma’s 4-3 win over Sacramento on Monday afternoon at Cheney Stadium — just not all of it.
A lot of things helped him get the chance to drive in the game-winning run.
To start, Jesus Montero’s two-run homer in the seventh cut the Rainiers’ deficit to 3-2.
Reliever Lucas Luetge came on in the seventh and pitched two innings of shut out ball, striking out three and allowing only two hits, while Todd Coffey threw a 1-2-3 ninth inning to keep Tacoma within striking distance.
Leading off in their final at bat, Rainiers outfielder Xavier Avery drew a walk to reach base for the third time. Shortstop Nick Franklin followed with a bunt single to move Avery to second, who then scored on a line drive to center by Ji-Man Choi. Montero then drew a walk to load the bases for Smoak.
“They came up in the ninth inning and got them on, got them over and got them in,” Rainiers manager Roy Howell said. “I would have liked to have seen that earlier, but we’ll take it whichever way we can get it.”
It was Tacoma’s second walkoff victory in two games against the Pacific Coast League-leading River Cats, who fell to 62-48 overall. The Rainiers took three of five in the series and improved to .500 at 55-55.
“Just trying to get the ball in the air,” Smoak said. “I was able to do it (Sunday) trying to get a ball in the air. If I get a hit, I get a hit, but I know if I get the ball in the air then Franklin is going to score from third.”
Smoak isn’t the only Rainiers player starting to put it together offensively. Montero continued his torrid hitting, as his new batting stance is paying dividends. He has a .396 batting average 32 RBIs in 23 games in July to lead the league.
“He used to stand like that and got away from it,” Howell said. “I don’t like a big, strong guy spread out and leaning over the plate, so he’s up where he can see the ball and make good judgment on breaking balls. I don’t know whose speculating — if it works, use it."
Tacoma right-handed pitcher Erasmo Ramirez had a shaky start against the River Cats in his first start back in Triple-A. Pitching for the Mariners, he struck out 10 against the New York Mets on July 22, but on Monday he gave up three runs and nine hits to Sacramento.
“He left the ball out over the plate,” Howell said. “It doesn’t matter if you are in the big leagues or the little leagues, if you leave it out over the plate, it gets hit.”
Tacoma begins an eight-game road trip Tuesday at Salt Lake at 6:05 p.m. The Rainiers will send right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker (4-1, 3.76 ERA) to the mound. The Bees’ pitcher is yet to be determined. The game can be heard on 850-AM.