Wednesday, June 28, 2017 This Week's Paper

Rainiers’ PCL Championship a total team effort

Do the math. What do 140 roster moves, two managers, four coaches, and zero play-off games at Cheney Stadium add up to? One Pacific Coast League championship for the Tacoma Rainiers, the first outright title for a Tacoma franchise since 1969 over Eugene, Ore.

After Tacoma won the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Conference crown over the Sacramento River Cats at Safeco Field on Sept. 12 three games to two, they flew to Memphis to take on the Memphis Redbirds, the defending PCL champions, winners of the American Conference.

Because renovations to Cheney Stadium began only hours after the team’s final regular-season game on Sept. 2, the entire postseason was played on the road.

Playing three games at Safeco was more like being at home, but part of the reward for finishing off the River Cats was that the road to the championship went another 1,900 miles.

It did not seem to faze the players. The first two games against the Redbirds were technically home games, meaning that Tacoma batted last.

On Sept. 14, Blake Beavan started, pitching six innings to earn the win. He gave up three runs on eight hits, while striking out six. Mike Wilson hit the first of his three home runs, one in each game. Justin Smoak also hit one out of AutoZone Park. These two hits accounted for all of Tacoma’s runs in the 5-3 victory.

Andy Baldwin was on the mound for two innings of one-hit pitching, and Dan Cortes did not allow a hit in the ninth. He got the save.

The following night’s winner was starter Mauricio Robles. He gave up four runs on six hits in five innings. He was followed by Ian Snell (one inning, two hits, two runs), Levale Speigner (1.1 inning, four hits, one run), and Edward Paredes (one inning, no hits, no runs).

The save in the 11-7 win went to Scott Patterson, who pitched two-thirds of an inning.

The team hit five home runs. In addition to Wilson, Greg Halman, Mike Carp, Tug Hulett and David Winfree also hit home runs.

Two down, one to go. But that had also been the scenario in the previous series when Tacoma took the first two games in Sacramento before the ‘Cats won the next two, forcing a game five in Seattle.

Needless to say no one wanted to play the maximum so far from home. After a day off for “travel,” the Redbirds took home-field advantage into game three on Sept. 17. Tacoma started Yusmeiro Petit, who gave up two runs in the bottom of the first inning. He lasted five innings, giving up four runs total on six hits while striking out seven.

Tacoma picked up a run in the third, four more in the fifth and one more in the sixth on Wilson’s obligatory home run, taking Petit off the hook before he was replaced by Anthony Varvaro in the sixth. The Redbirds got one hit and one run off him.

He was followed by Patterson, who blew the save when he allowed the tying run to score.

And so the game continued into the night tied at 6-6, until the top of the 11th inning, which started with a one out-walk to infielder Dustin Ackley, followed by two singles and a hit-by-pitch.

Turns out all the team needed was one run, but four crossed the plate, putting Tacoma ahead by a final score of 10-6. Baldwin pitched two innings of hitless ball for the victory. In addition to Wilson, Winfree, Ackley and Eliezer Alfonzo homered.

After the win in Memphis the team got to do some more traveling. They hit the road for Oklahoma City and the “Brick Town Showdown.”

This one game on Sept. 21 with Columbus, the International League champion, determines the ultimate triple A champion.

Following the Rainiers’ victory in Memphis, manager Jose Castro reflected on the season. At the start of it, he was the hitting coordinator for all of Seattle’s minor-league teams. His promotion to the Rainiers’ staff as hitting coach came in May, when Alonzo Powell became the Mariners’ hitting coach. His role with the team changed again Aug. 9, after Daren Brown went up to manage the Mariners and Castro became interim manager in Tacoma. His coaching job was filled for the final weeks of the season by Andy Stankiewicz, formerly the organization’s field coordinator. Jaime Navarro was the Rainiers’ pitching coach the entire season.

“We prepared for this all during the winter and through spring training,” Castro said. “But it is an absolutely great feeling to win it all.”

The Rainiers were probably the youngest team in the league, with such players as 21-year-old Ackley, who was playing college ball just 16 months ago. Castro added that he felt bad for Rainiers’ fans who were not able to see the team win it all in person, but said that many fans of the organization’s double-A team in nearby Jackson, Tenn., did travel to the games in Memphis.

Winfree called the season unbelievable. “Coming off that rough road trip we had to Iowa and Omaha (Aug. 4-11, when the team lost eight straight games and fell out of first place for the first time since June 19), I don’t think anybody would have thought we would have won the whole thing. It was a complete team effort (from) one through nine, starters and bullpen.”