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Rainiers capture division crown

// Cheney to host playoff games

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When the spring season comes around, every baseball fan in America begins a new round of hopes, dreams and sometimes even prayers for their respective team to make the playoffs. That dream has become reality this year as Tacoma fans have been rewarded with a division title by the Tacoma Rainiers and cherished trip to the postseason is now upon them.

Beginning with opening night, the Rainiers sat atop the Pacific Coast League (PCL) Pacific Northern division standings for 144 consecutive games.

We’re talking about the entire season here.

While it’s always an incredible fete for any organization to simply win a title, it’s an entirely different story when that team maintains the top spot throughout such a long journey and ends up running the table. Now a new journey is beginning for the Rainiers, and it may even be more difficult a task than the one they just pulled off.

Standing in the way of the Rainiers (81-62) and a PCL championship will first be the El Paso Chihuahuas (73-70), the winners of the PCL Pacific Southern title. Tacoma has had a solid degree of success against the Chihuahuas this season earning an 11-5 record in their meetings. However, since Triple-A rosters witness so much change throughout the season, this series, beginning on Wednesday, Sept. 7, is certainly anybody’s ballgame. Facing a five-game series, it only takes a little spark for one of the teams to take care of business and move on to the PCL Championship Series.

Tacoma will play two games in El Paso before heading back to Cheney Stadium on Friday, Sept. 9 at 7:05 p.m. for game three of the series. If a three-game winner has not yet been decided, the teams will meet again the following night at Cheney for game four at 7:05 p.m. Should the teams remain deadlocked after four games, game five will take place on Sunday, Sept. 11 at 1:05 p.m.

If Tacoma can overcome El Paso, they will have just one day off before hosting the first two games of the PCL Championship on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 13 and 14. In the opposite PCL bracket, the Oklahoma City Dodgers (81-60) will be facing the Nashville Sounds (83-59). In July, the Rainiers hosted the Dodgers for a four-game series. Both teams came away with two victories. Tacoma then visited Nashville in August for four games and split with them as well.

The winner of the PCL championship will advance to play the International League champion in the Triple-A National Championship Game on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at Autozone Park in Memphis, TN.

As most Rainier fans know, the Reno Aces (76-68) made one final charge toward the top of the standings in August, and with Tacoma going through its first rough spot of the season, there was some nail-biting going on around the South Sound. On Aug. 27 and 29, the Aces got to within 2.5 games of Tacoma’s top spot, but were never able to get another step closer. It was looking as though the final four games of the season, all against Reno at Cheney Stadium, would very well decide who was going to take the division crown.

This Reno championship series scenario never came to pass, as Tacoma won three of four games against the Fresno Grizzlies in the run-up to the final stanza with the Aces. The final contest against the Grizzlies was not only a battle on the baseball diamond, but also a battle against the weather. Being the final game of the series with Fresno, and the division title still up in the air, it was of paramount importance that Tacoma and Fresno finish up their final game against each other, despite the rain falling from the heavens.

Let’s talk about that rain for a moment. The Thursday, Sept. 1 contest was welcomed with gray, drizzly skies that occasionally began dumping some serious wet stuff around town. When the game started, it appeared that the bad stuff may have passed Cheney Stadium by. This was not to be the case. The rains went back and forth between a sprinkle and a full-on, heavy deluge. All the while, the two teams continued to slog it out on the field. Meanwhile, what appeared to be maybe 800 fans in attendance migrated toward areas of the park that had some cover.

Meanwhile, the game went on and on with neither team taking command of the affair. The biggest cheer of the night came during the seventh inning when it was announced that the Sacramento Bees had defeated Reno by a score of 3-1, which eliminated the Aces from contention and sealed the deal on the Rainiers division title.

Meanwhile, the game went on and on. By the start of the 14th inning the score was still deadlocked at 1-1. One estimate had the size of the crowd somewhere around a number of 64. The rain was still doing its thing, and the clock had struck midnight. In the bottom of the 14th, a walk-off RBI single by Ryan Strausborger finally ended the game at 2-1 for the Rainiers. The game lasted four hours and 59 minutes.

The following night, Tacoma welcomed the Aces to Cheney and to maintain their recent tradition, went 11 innings before falling to Reno 2-1. The Aces would then have their final moment of the season with a 7-2 victory over Tacoma on Saturday, Sept. 3. The following afternoon saw Tacoma erase a 7-4 deficit going into the bottom of the ninth inning. A walk-off two-RBI hit by Rob Brantly sent the Tacoma fans home happy and smiling with an 8-7 win. The regular season finale the next day was capped by a grand slam off the bat of first baseman Dan Vogelbach in Tacoma’s 5-3 victory.

Playoff tickets and more information is available on tacomarainiers.com, or at the Cheney Stadium box office.

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