When Mark Payton stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the eighth inning Sunday, he and his Aviators teammates were in dire need of a big hit. Sure enough, the left fielder delivered the biggest of them all, a one-out, opposite-field grand slam. Alas, big as it was, Payton's hit proved to be his team's last - and not quite enough to push Las Vegas to victory.
After taking an early 2-0 lead, the Aviators (22-16) watched the Tacoma Rainiers score nine unanswered runs en route to a 10-6 victory before a Mother's Day sellout crowd of 9,034 at Las Vegas Ballpark. A trio of Rainiers recorded three-hit games, led by right fielder Ian Miller, who went 3-for-4 with a home run, double, three runs scored and three RBI.
Facing Las Vegas starter Tanner Alexander and three relievers, Tacoma (18-20) pounded out 15 hits, including four doubles, a triple and three home runs. That was more than enough to offset the production of Payton, who added a bunt single to his ninth home run of the year and was the only Aviators' hitter to finish with multiple hits.
The day actually started well enough for the home team. After Anderson (3-3) retired the first six Rainiers he faced in order, his teammates staked him to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second when Seth Brown greeted Tacoma starter Tyler Cloyd with a leadoff double and scored on Beau Taylor's RBI single. Two outs later, Franklin Barreto walked and Payton reached on a bunt single to load the bases before Nick Martini drew another walk to force home Taylor.
The bases-loaded threat ended when Dustin Fowler grounded out, then Anderson returned to the mound and everything started to unravel. After consecutive singles and a force out drove home Tacoma's first run, Tim Lopes deposited Anderson's first pitch over the left-center field fence for his second home run in as many games.
The Rainiers boosted their lead to 5-2 on a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning, after which Anderson was was lifted for reliever Norge Ruiz. After pitching a scoreless fifth and retiring the first hitter he faced in the sixth, Ruiz allowed four hits to the next five batters, including Kristopher Negron's one-out solo home run and Mallex Smith's two-out, two-run double to blow the game open.
Besides putting up the two runs in the second, the Aviators' offense struggled to come through in the clutch against Cloyd (1-1), who scattered five hits and five walks over 5 2/3 innings. But four of the right-hander's five strikeouts came with men on base.
Indeed, Payton's big blast aside, it was a frustrating afternoon for the Aviators' hitters, who left eight runners on base and went 3-for-10 with runners in scoring position. As a result, by the time Payton came up in the eighth and followed three consecutive one-out walks with his team's third grand slam of the season, it was too little, too late.
Game Notes:. With the loss, the Aviators dropped to 5-5 on their season-long 10-game homestand. They're also now 1-6 in day games and 1-5 on Sundays this season. … Las Vegas shortstop Jorge Mateo, who is riding a 10-game hitting streak and leads the Pacific Coast League in hits (54), triples (9) and stolen bases (11), got a rare day off Sunday. … Skye Bolt owns the Aviators' two other grand slams, hitting both against the Fresno Grizzlies seven days apart in April. … In addition to Miller's big day, Lopes (2-for-5, HR, 3 RBI), Negron (3-for-5, triple, HR, two runs, RBI) and Connor Kopach (3-for-4, run, stolen base) had multiple hits for the Rainiers, who improved to 8-3 in their past 11 games. … Sunday's sellout was the 19th through the first 22 games at Las Vegas Ballpark, pushing the season-long attendance to 210,305.
On Deck: Las Vegas and Tacoma resume their four-game set at 7:05 p.m. Monday. Right-hander Parker Dunshee will make his first career Triple-A start for the Aviators after being recalled from Double-A Midland to take the roster spot of previously scheduled starter Edwin Jackson, who was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday. Dunshee, who was 2-2 with a 1.89 ERA in six starts at Midland, will oppose Rainiers left-hander John Niese (1-0, 3.38 ERA).
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.