It was a night for Nicaragua.
Or, rather, two Nicaraguans who play baseball for the Tacoma Rainiers.
Erasmo Ramirez pitched eight innings and yielded five hits and two runs while striking out six batters, and Gabriel Noriega hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning to help the Rainiers secure a 7-3 victory over Omaha at Cheney Stadium on Thursday night.
“It felt awesome,” Ramirez said. “Every time you go seven, eight, nine (innings), that’s the best games you can throw.
“My confidence is back. I’m throwing a lot of strikes, being aggressive more against hitters. That’s a big point. Just continue doing what I’ve been doing. If you’re getting tired, that’s no excuse — you have to figure out how to execute your pitches.”
It was the second consecutive night that the Rainiers’ batters heated up when it needed to most. Leading 4-3 going into the eighth inning, Tacoma scored three runs on six hits to effectively seal the game.
“That’s the bottom line — we got some hits with guys in scoring position and that’s what you’re after,” Tacoma manager Roy Howell said.
The Rainiers might not have led entering the bottom of the eighth if it weren’t for Leury Bonilla’s defense in the Omaha half of the inning.
Nicaraguan Cheslor Cuthbert — a friend of Ramirez — singled on a soft fly to right field to score Paul Janish as Omaha (69-63) cut the deficit to 4-3 but Bonilla quicklythrew the ball to shortstop Ketel Marte, who tagged out Cuthbert at second baseto end the inning.
“That’s a great out. You’re just happy to get out of the inning,” Ramirez said. “You’re going to face a lot of friends, a lot of guys from your own country, but they had to earn their base hits. I pitched the same that I was pitching — aggressive.”
In the bottom of the eighth, Ji-Man Choi led off with a single then Noriega blasted an opposite-field home run to right field to push Tacoma in front, 6-3.
Noriega finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs following a 4-for-4 performance Wednesday night.
Carson Smith replaced Ramirez and pitched a scoreless ninth for the Rainiers.
Ramirez’s biggest mistake came in the sixth when Omaha shortstop Paul Janish launched a 3-1 fastball for a home run to cut the Rainiers’ lead to 4-2.
Ramirez (5-5) responded by getting two fly outs and a strikeout to escape the inning.
Ramirez also kept former Rainier and Seattle Mariner Carlos Peguero from doing any damage. Peguero entered the game leading the minor leagues with 13 home runs this month but went 0-for-3 with a strikeout.
Marte made up for his throwing error in the first inning that allowed Omaha’s first run when he blasted a leadoff home run in the bottom of the third inning. It was his second homer of the year and first at Cheney Stadium.
With Sacramento’s 7-1 loss to Memphis, the Rainiers are four games out of first place in the Pacific Northern Division. The first-place team from each division advances to the postseason.
Michael Saunders, on rehabilitation assignment from the Mariners, was not in the lineup Thursday. He was sent home with an illness prior to the game.
The Rainiers will continue their eight-game homestand at 7:05 p.m. (PDT) Friday against the Storm Chasers. The Rainiers are scheduled to start left-hander James Gillheeney (3-9, 5.98 ERA) against Omaha right-hander Liam Hendriks (3-1, 3.67 ERA).