Mike Zunino didn’t single-handedly end the Tacoma Rainiers three-game losing streak, but he certainly had a lot to do with it.
Zunino hit bookend home runs in the first and ninth innings, driving in all five Tacoma runs as the Rainiers beat Sacramento on Saturday night, 5-3.
After Nori Aoki and Guillermo Heredia opened the game with consecutive singles, Zunino blasted Sacramento starter Chris Stratton’s fifth pitch of the game deep over the left field fence to give the Rainiers a 3-0 lead.
Tacoma (48-40) didn’t score again until the ninth inning, and by that time Sacramento had tied it 3-3.
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With two outs in the ninth, Heredia doubled to left field against River Cats reliever Jean Machi, bringing Zunino to the plate.
First base was open and D.J. Peterson was on deck. Sacramento chose to pitch to Zunino — and he ripped a two-run shot, which turned out to be the game-winner.
The victory was the first professional managerial win for Mariners Director of Player Development Andy McKay, who is filling in for Pat Listach during the Sacramento series.
“I did a really good job of giving him a high-five as he rounded third,” said McKay. “That was the extent of my contributions tonight.”
Zunino finished 3-for-5 with two homers and five runs batted in. The two-homer game came exactly one week after he did the same thing at Safeco Field in a Mariners victory over Baltimore.
Tacoma starter Zach Lee had his best game since being acquired via trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Making his fourth start for the Rainiers, Lee allowed three runs on seven hits in six innings. He struck out four without a walk.
Sacramento tied the game early. Andrew Susac hit a solo home run in the second inning, and Ryan Lollis capped a two-run rally in the third with a two-out RBI single to left field.
“Those first couple of innings are a question mark for a lot of guys,” McKay said. “(Lee) settled in real well, and the bullpen was tremendous.”
After the third inning, Sacramento had just one hit. Lee gave up a single in the sixth, and Andrew Kittredge pitched perfect relief in the seventh and eighth innings.
Tacoma used Kraig Sitton to retire the left-handed Lollis leading off the bottom of the ninth, before Blake Parker was summoned to record the final two outs and earn his 15th save.
On Tap: The final game of the series is on Sunday at 1:05. Tacoma starts Jordan Pries (1-1, 4.26) against Sacramento’s Joan Gregorio (2-4, 5.07).