Curto, Tacoma Rainiers

After Long Wait, Alex Blandino & Rainiers Slam Round Rock

Friday night at Cheney Stadium was like a throwback to the old, pre-Covid era of Pacific Coast League baseball. It was as if we took a time machine back to the days of the four-game series, one day off a month, teams travelling on the day of the game, and half-asleep players trying to survive a game of zombie baseball.

Since MLB took over the minors prior to the 2021 season, they have made one change that has been very positive: creating a schedule made up almost entirely of six-game series, leaving one day off per week. In the PCL, where all the teams fly commercial airlines from city to city, teams are using that day off to travel which has eliminated games being delayed due to travel problems.

However, they had to scatter a few three-game series around the schedule, to make it work logistically. Right now, the Rainiers are in one of these periods: they just played three games at Salt Lake, and now are hosting Round Rock for three games.

Salt Lake did the Rainiers the courtesy of scheduling a day game on Thursday, so the team was able to take a late flight home. The flight was delayed, as the last flight of the night often is, but the Rainiers were still able to get home and sleep in on Friday morning prior to last night’s game.

Round Rock, however, was not so fortunate. The Express played a night game on Thursday in Las Vegas, and had to stay the night there, wake up early, and fly to SeaTac in the morning. No problem, we used to do this stuff all the time prior to 2021, except this comes with a risk. Disaster occurred for the Express. Their plane had a mechanical issue in Las Vegas and was grounded for hours while a replacement part was flown in from another city.

The Round Rock players spent hours in the Las Vegas airport, and finally were airborne sometime after 5:00 pm. Keep in mind, they were supposed to take off early in the morning. That’s a lot of sitting around!

The Express arrived at Cheney Stadium around 7:30. So did their baseball equipment, which was on the plane with them. That stuff had to be unloaded, unpacked, and sorted out. Their team trainer had to set up his entire training room as quickly as possible, so he could perform pregame treatments for players who needed them.

With everybody hustling as fast as they could, the game finally started at 9:47 pm. Now, in the interest of fairness, if the Express had been on time we would have had a delayed start due to rain. But not that late.

Because of the nature of the delay – there was nothing anyone could do about it – MLB allowed the two teams to agree to play a seven-inning game. At least we knew this was happening as it unfolded, and were able to alert fans through social media what was going on. Social media: not completely useless, it turns out.

In the end, we had a Friday late night special. And it was good.

For six-and-a-half innings it was the Rainiers who played like the team that had spent the entire day sitting in an airport. Tacoma had just three hits, made 12 consecutive outs at one point, and appeared kind of lifeless.

Meanwhile, Round Rock had great starting pitching, banged out 13 hits, had baserunners all night, and even perfectly executed a freakin’ suicide squeeze. The Express took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh and final inning. It looked like they were going to rewarded for their perseverance with a victory.

And then it was over. Walk, walk, walk, homer. Goodbye. Enjoy your salami, see ya’ tomorrow.

Erick Mejia, Marcus Wilson, and Andrew Knapp walked in succession to open the inning, loading the bases for Alex Blandino. Round Rock brought in a new pitcher, Demarcus Evans. Blandino lifted a deep fly ball to left. Nick Solak went back to the fence, timed it, jumped in the air, reaching up with his glove extended, and just missed it. Grand salami time, Rainiers win 6-4.

It was Tacoma’s first walk-off grand slam since Chris Mariscal hit one on June 25, 2019 against El Paso.

Tacoma played the first 54 games of the season without hitting a grand slam, and now has two in the past three games. Scott Heineman hit one in his Rainiers debut on Wednesday at Salt Lake.

Despite enduring what must have been a miserable day, Round Rock announcer Mike Capps took over our MiLB.TV broadcast last night, and will continue to do so today. I’m still day-to-day, but hope to return to the airwaves soon!

RAINIERS DAILY

YESTERDAY: The Rainiers made it three straight wins when Alex Blandino hit a walk-off grand slam for a 6-4 victory over visiting Round Rock on Friday night. Tacoma was out-hit 13-4 in the contest, but two of Tacoma’s hits left the building – Marcus Wilson homered earlier in the contest. Scoreless relief in the late innings from Kyle Bird and Austin Warner set the stage for the comeback. Round Rock’s Leody Taveras, who has been one of the league’s top hitters all season long, went 4-for-4 including a bunt single on a suicide squeeze (which was admittedly very cool – you just don’t see that these days).

TODAY: Round Rock Express (32-26) at Tacoma Rainiers (22-35), 5:05.

OPPONENT AFFILIATION: Texas Rangers.

OPPOSING MANAGER: Matt Hagen.

SEASON SERIES: Tacoma leads, 1-0.

PITCHERS: TBD at RHP Daniel Ponce de Leon (4-4, 6.31)

Round Rock’s listed starter (Tyson Miller) was called up by the Texas Rangers, and we’re not sure yet who is getting the ball for them.

ROSTER MOVES: The Mariner have re-claimed Kevin Padlo off waivers from the San Francisco Giants, and he is going to report to Tacoma for his second tour of duty with the Rainiers. To make room on the 40-man roster, reliever Drew Steckenrider has been designated for assignment.

HOT HITTERS:¬†Brian O’Keefe did not reach base last night – just the second time in his 25 games this season that has happened… Jarred Kelenic has hit safely in 14 of his last 15 games… Mason McCoy went 0-for-2 last night, ending his five-game hitting streak… Alex Blandino¬†has a four-game hitting streak, going 6-for-15 with two home runs… Marcus Wilson has a four-game hitting streak, with two homers.

OPPONENT NEWS: Round Rock was red-hot in mid-May, reaching 12 games over .500, but has since fallen back a bit and comes into the series having lost nine of the last 13 games… that includes dropping two-of-three at Las Vegas in the first leg of a six-game road trip that continues tonight at Cheney… the Express don’t have any former Tacoma players, but they do have two with local ties: infielder Nick Tanielu went to Federal Way High School and played for Washington State, and outfielder Josh Sale was drafted by Tampa in 2010 out of Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle… try to keep an eye on leadoff man Bubba Thompson, if you can: the 2017 first round pick leads the league with 27 stolen bases and has only been thrown out one time.

PCL SCOREBOARD: Follow all league games in real-time with links to broadcasts and Gameday screens right here.

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