The Aviators' inaugural season at Las Vegas Ballpark has been chock-full of memorable moments, from a slew of walk-off victories to numerous awards bestowed by both the Pacific Coast League as well as several national baseball entities. But if they're going to experience a memorable moment that will forever be remembered - winning a division championship - the Aviators are going to have to bear down, fight, scratch and claw to make it happen.
For the second night in a row, Las Vegas had little trouble putting men on base against the Tacoma Rainiers, but it struggled mightily to push those runners safely across home plate. As a result, the Aviators (80-56) fell to the Rainiers 3-2 on Saturday before a Fan Appreciation Night crowd of 10,618.
The defeat was Las Vegas' third in a row and fifth in its last six games. Making matters worse, the El Paso Chihuahuas - who are nipping at the Aviators' heels in the PCL's Pacific Southern Division - earned a 3-0 road victory over the Sacramento River Cats on Saturday. El Paso's victory, combined the Aviators' loss, shrunk Las Vegas' divisional lead to one game with two to play.
As was the case in Friday's 4-2 loss to Tacoma, the Aviators struggled in clutch situations Saturday, going 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position while leaving 11 runners on base. Despite those issues, several Las Vegas players did their best to deliver a victory, including outfielder Mark Payton, who recorded his sixth consecutive multiple-hit game, going 2-for-5, including a run-scoring double in the ninth inning. Also, second baseman Trace Loehr - who spent the vast majority of this season at Single-A Stockton (California) before being called up three weeks ago - went 2-for-4, scored on Payton's double and raised his Triple-A average to .344.
In other positive news, the Aviators got a stellar pitching performance from Grant Holmes, who allowed just one run on six hits over 4 2/3 innings in his Triple-A debut after being promoted from Double-A Midland (Texas). The right-hander struck out five, walked just one and threw 40 of his 65 pitches for strikes.
Unfortunately for Holmes, Tacoma's Anthony Misiewicz matched him virtually pitch-for-pitch, yielding just one run on five hits and three walks while striking out 10 over six innings. Three Tacoma relievers followed Misiewicz and combined to tack on another four strikeouts while yielding just a run on three hits and two walks over the final three innings.
Yet the Aviators still had a chance to produce a walk-off victory in the ninth, as Loehr hit a one-out double to right field and scored three batters later on Payton's double to left. But the rally ended when Cameron Rupp struck out looking against Tacoma reliever Matt Carasiti to end the game.
GAME NOTES: Saturday's sellout was the 45th in 68 games this season at Las Vegas Ballpark. … Besides Payton's RBI double in the ninth, Las Vegas' other run Saturday came courtesy of catcher Dustin Garneau, who hit his seventh home run of the season in the fourth inning, a solo shot off Misiewicz.
TRANSACTION ACTION: Another day, another slew of transactions that impacted the Las Vegas roster. First, catcher Sean Murphy, infielder/outfielder Franklin Barreto and ace starting pitcher Paul Blackburn were all deactivated from Las Vegas' roster Saturday in preparation for their promotions to the Oakland A's. All three are expected to be activated by Oakland on Sunday, the first day that Major League Baseball rosters expand from 25 to 40.
In other roster news, the A's designated Aviators right-handed starting pitcher Tanner Anderson for assignment and promoted infiedler Mikey White from Midland. Also, Las Vegas infielder Eric Campbell is expected to be activated from the injured list Sunday after missing two weeks with a hamstring injury.
ON DECK: Las Vegas and Tacoma resume their four-game series at 7:05 pm. Sunday at Las Vegas Ballpark. Right-hander James Kaprielian is scheduled to make his Triple-A debut for the Aviators opposite Rainiers southpaw Sean Nolin (6-3, 4.63).
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.